Since the start of the decade, Venezuelan hip-hop and electronic music producer Alejandro Ghersi, more commonly known as Arca, has been becoming progressively more notorious in several scenes at once.
His wildly inventive sonic hodgepodges of hip-hop-inspired beats and glitched out electronic kaleidoscopes may have only seen him towards cult status as a solo musician, but as a member of the industry, it has seen him playing the producer role behind the scenes for artists as ubiquitous as Björk and Kanye West.
His solo work, while not entirely obscure by any means, has never quite reached a level of commercial success to match his consistent level critical acclaim. His newest work is a self-titled album slated for release on April 7, and if the handful of singles he has released so far are any indicator of the what is to come in the full project, “Arca” may very well come to represent the young producer’s most successful venture into mainstream notoriety thus far.
The first two of these preview tracks were released in late February as “Piel” and “Anoche” respectively. At first, the choice to release these tracks in particular before the others appeared to be either the most daring or the most logical decision Arca could have made in promoting his album release. Both “Piel” and “Anoche” are almost entirely unlike Arca’s usual creations, and make the public’s first exposure to his new album’s material in the form of these dark ambient pop tracks with softly hummed vocals, somber melodicism, and very little beat-based material. This might seem misleading given Arca’s usual approach–it may actually be a very shrewd decision–likely to garner new interest from potential music fans perhaps more interested in the likes of FKA Twigs (for whom Arca has also produced, and who he is undoubtedly evoking throughout the duration of both “Piel” and “Anoche”).
A month after “Piel” and “Anoche”, Arca released “Reverie” and “Saunter”, the former being perhaps the track of those released most revealing of Arca’s apparent direction for this new album, especially in contrast to the latter. “Saunter” is by far the most stylistically familiar of the new Arca tracks, still perhaps tinted with some of his newfound pop sensibilities, it is largely evocative of the more atmospheric moments from Arca’s 2014 work Xen, sharing some of that album’s moody distortions of hard-hitting hip-hop beats and ethereal electronics. “Saunter”, as a release, in sounding like what one might expect from Arca, is (ironically) unexpected, but in the context of Arca’s other March single release, it seems to fall into place.
“Reverie” is the bridge between the distinct sonic approaches of old Arca and new Arca. The track is firmly rooted in the more abstract side of his electronic soundscapes, featuring the same kind of dark, wobbling, uncomfortable industrial tones that characterized the more sinister moments of his work on Kanye West’s “Yeezus.” Just as “Reverie” begins to seem like classic Arca in the vein of “Saunter,” those delicate, haunting, almost wounded sounding vocals that characterized “Piel” and “Anoche” begin to creep in, eventually forming the backbone of the track. Fading in and around what is undoubtedly a quintessentially “Arca,” his vocals take on tortured darkness and gloom, until the boundaries between where Arca has been and where he is going no longer appear significant. “Reverie” is an Arca track in the purest sense of the idea.
Stylistic changes considered, Arca shows no intention of becoming less daring or inventive with his latest work, but where he has previously engaged in production deliberately cold and mechanical, there is a distinct human empathy present within these 4 songs. While the fact that Arca is now featuring vocals may do much to increase his chances of mainstream success (purely instrumental non-dance oriented electronic music doesn’t always fare too well commercially), his greatest asset in bringing his music to more ears with the imminent release of “Arca” will almost certainly lie in this empathy, in his being unafraid to simultaneously challenge himself artistically, and bare himself emotionally.
Pre-order “Arca” here