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Arca
Xen Gary Suarez , November 6th, 2014 12:08

Assuming there's still something resembling a book twenty years from now, someone is b-b-b-bound to write one about the making of Yeezus, Kanye West's ultramodern hip-hop protest record. A perfect superstorm of secrecy, desire, and anti-marketing zeal with a charismatic enigma at its central eye, the album no doubt has stories upon stories worth telling. With any luck, we'll wrest at least some of this desired intel from the colluding cabal of producers who had a hand in its ten tracks.

Indeed, production might prove to be Yeezus' real legacy. Though a fair amount of fuss was made over West's high profile collaborators like Daft Punk and Rick Rubin, contributing to the record was subsequently impactful on the careers of comparative unknowns such as Evian Christ, Gesaffelstein and Arca. The latter of these, a Venezuelan national living in London, had some hand in four out of the album's ten tracks, including air raid ghettoblaster jam 'Send It Up' and hypnagogic trap anthem 'Hold My Liquor.'

Following his work on Yeezus, Alejandro Ghersi now stands on the precipice of self-actualised importance. He has since lifted FKA twigs to veritable indie stardom and was recently tapped to tackle the new Bjork record. He's presented his striking music as Arca in tandem with rather talented visual artist Jesse Kanda in unlikely places, including churches and art galleries. A proper full-length with conventional distribution, Xen evokes a devastating musical future, one where Blade Runner dystopia relocates to the Caracas slums, a Tower Of David eviction that didn't stick.

Welcome to digital nihilism, a postmodern rejection of EDM's droll hedonism. Unbound by influence, Arca throttles the familiar into submission. 'Now You Know' opens the album like some Drive soundtrack outtake where Ryan Gosling suffers from an existential nosebleed. The title track spells the end of dubstep amid sensory disruption akin to what Hunter Thompson might have experienced after those first drops of pineal adrenochrome. This is Ibiza under siege.

After the retiree rave techno of Aphex Twin's Syro, there's something goddamn revolutionary about a truly difficult dance record such as 'Bullet Chained,' all factory fragments and glass shards. 'Slit Thru' gloms onto a classic hip-hop template like a nanobot leech, while the dissonant reggaeton of 'Thievery' reinforces that genre's manifold unchecked opportunities.

Sadistically hard panned static ('Sisters') and skittish glitches ('Fish') appear programmed to make Xen impenetrable, but there's so much machine-generated warmth inside this industrial prism. 'Held Apart' and 'Wound' are things of irreparably damaged beauty, piano balladry as lulling segue and pop strung out far beyond fashionable heroin chic, respectively. 'Sad Bitch' plinks and plonks through the echoey darkness with ecstatic gall while 'Failed' warbles into loneliness. These moments often yield more than the cacophonous club crushers they jut up against.

Conceptually Xen purports to serve as a personal statement of sorts on gender and sexuality. But beyond Kanda's arresting artwork and accompanying music videos, these themes are quite easily overlooked and ignored like the wordy preambles that often precede pricey art books or gallery exhibits. Flip forward, walk on through, and head straight to the unholy twerk video for 'Thievery', in which a servile naked woman, argued by some to be a motion-capture of Ghersi himself with the Xen cover character CGIed on to the wireframe, gyrates her mottled virtual hips, briefly flashing a gruesome groin that blurs the already eerie sexuality into abject horror.

Given the jumble of beatmakers on Yeezus, it was often difficult to decipher its codified credits, but the Xen aesthetic provides possible sonic clues. For example, Arca's disregard for 4/4 and flair for the austere aligns with the stark dancehall depth charges below Beenie Man on 'I'm In It' or the car crash stabs that accent the tail ends of Ye's 'Hold My Liquor' bars. The two albums logically diverge without the presence of one larger-than-life megastar, yet Xen is never fully rid of its paternity. Not interested in following in anyone's footsteps, Arca borrows back the skeletal remains he made to West and creates new albeit strange life. Gorgeous and ghastly, Xen is no clone, but it may too resonate through generations.

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