To date, Alejandro Ghersi’s career as a producer has been pretty remarkable. Along with collaborations with Kanye West, Bjork, and FKA Twigs, he has released his own utterly original debut album and followed that up with a series of shows in conjunction with visual collaborator Jesse Kanda (whose aesthetic is a crucial part of Ghersi’s work under the Arca moniker) that have wowed audiences with their sheer force and playful energy. Now is the time for him to put his feet up for a bit and bask in the creative success of the last year or so.
Except we are barely a year removed from Xen, and Arca is back with an expansive, hour-long new album that has arrived with such speed it should really be the moment that he comes slightly unstuck. Surely Mutant should come across as a little rushed or half-hearted, or perhaps an album in need of understandable editing.
The fact that the album not only matches but arguably eclipses his fine debut makes it one of the year’s loveliest surprises. On Mutant Arca sounds more comfortable and yet more alien than ever, his sound beginning to show some kind of shape whilst still completely eluding categorization or recognizable narrative. He is still completely out on his own.
Arca’s music retains the queasiness that made Xen such an unusual album to try to consume initially, but somehow this time the flow over the hour of music takes on its own logic, simultaneously more out there than ever while offering portals into Ghersi’s imagination. The likes of “Front Load” and “Enveloped” contain approachable rhythms and could feasibly be lead singles, while moments such as “Else” and the minimalist strings of “Gratitud” act as the calm during the storm.
Of course, the majority of the music here is still physical, visceral, and occasionally violent. The album’s title track opens with distorted horror movie screaming that evokes some of the scarier moments of Arca’s debut before levitating into something oddly soothing and more crisp over its seven-minute running time. “Umbilical” and “En” both pulse with an urgency that act as alarm calls in case you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security. The edges of Arca’s music sound sharp and lethal.
Ghersi is at his best when molding strange shapes out of familiar sounds, creating some truly exciting moments. The way his slightly off-key synth melodies dance around an old-school rave hi-hat in “Soichiro,” the awesome pounding mid-section of “Sinner,” and the seductive minor key melody of “Snakes” are such moments. On “Anger,” he completely submerges the song for the entirety of its last thirty seconds, sounding less like a breakdown than a drowning. Music here is bred into strange beasts and then pulled apart and re-shaped again, the musical equivalent of the disturbing plasticine-like form on the album cover.
Mutant is the sound of an incomparable artist finding his voice even more, and the result is that this young man remains a standout in an impressive field of acts willing to push the technology of electronica into alien realms. His success with more mainstream artists sounds like an outlier, but it’s not coincidence that those other acts are always looking to the future for inspiration rather than the past. In a few years, plenty of people might sound like Arca, but right now, nobody does.
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