On his first two records ‘Xen’ and ‘Mutant’, Arca – real name Alejandro Ghersi – built nebulous structures from a paean of underground electronica. Resisting static definition, Arca left the listener to extract their own meanings from his brand of mechanical elegies. His attraction to abstractness and wandering abandon, the reason Kanye West and FKA twigs would endorse him for their own respective records.
The seminal moment for Arca would be his contributions to Björk’s LP ‘Vulnicura’, a show reel of compelling, dysmorphic production flourishes working in unison with Björk’s most achingly humane lyrics in years. Björk’s request for Ghersi to foreground his own vocals culminates in an eponymous third LP that signals the rebirth of Arca as a vocalist – a soul-baring escapade by an artist who is cavorting with his own insanity.
The beauty of ‘Arca’ is that it runs like one continuous piece. It’s as if Ghersi has created the record to coincide with a one-man show intended to be consumed as a whole, going from a behind-the-decks electronic composer to an exhibitionist. ‘Arca’ rides a steady stream of minimalist melancholia, juxtaposed against Ghersi’s intense, operatic vocals – the effect is one of ceremonial transcendence.
Ghersi consecrates experiences of love, longing, disillusionment and isolation. On ‘Reverie’, he builds a dream-like state of being through a combination of cavernous, shuffling percussion and synths – his mournful vocals foregrounding a dark, dissonant backdrop. On ‘Anoche’, Arca shifts from falsetto to a deeper timbre over amplified piano tones, the mood concurrently foreboding but eerily static.
Ghersi exploits his voice in more direct and less unblemished ways, adding the requisite reverb or delay, but dialling down on his penchant for pitch alteration. Vocals are the product of first takes and improv; you can physically hear Arca as he takes in air, as he swallows and it only intensifies the visceral immediacy of his performance. ‘Coraje’ a spectral, whimsical number, comes undone by Arca’s recoiling vocal, the resultant effect is equal parts menacing, equal parts lamenting. His exaggerated play on the syllabic structure of his native Spanish only deepens his intent as a man meeting the dark side of depravity, and he wants the audience to go over with him, hand in hand.
Nowhere does ‘Arca’ follow a conventional song structure (except on ‘Desafio’ where you can vaguely make out a verse-chorus template.) Neither are the songs rhythmic or danceable, thriving in a wider paradigm of desolate silence and episodic distortions. But by existing on the fringes of popular electronic music, ‘Arca’ puts the spotlight on deconstructed club culture and how these havens provide club goers with a more emotionally expansive place to express their idiosyncrasies. Through ‘Arca’, Ghersi guides the listener to contort and cry their way through otherworldly, synthetic dimensions.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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