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Reviews

Arca
Mutant Sharon O'Connell , November 23rd, 2015 10:41

Tempting though it is to read the distinctive 'otherness' of Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi's work as the product of his background – growing up in a destabilised Caracas, gay in a gay-intolerant culture, a classical piano student who was a fan of Aaliyah and Autechre – biography alone can't possibly explain his complex, teeming creations. That nothing else really can, either, is what makes them all the more compelling.

It's easy to see why Kanye made a move on the then barely known Arca for his Yeezus album of 2013 and what drew Björk to him for Vulnicura; here was a young electronic producer with deep hip hop empathies and a seemingly inexhaustible talent for bravura invention. But if Arca's full-length debut, Xen showed only glimpses of his hip hop past, so well had the grafts of chip tunes, bass music and minimalist composition taken, then on Mutant, those glimpses are reduced to nanosecond flashes, allowing Arca to reveal himself in a birth-slicked new skin.

This set is out there in the way that an exoplanet is out there – identifiable, but also thrillingly unknowable, able to bend your senses with its endless shape shifting and knock you sideways with its hallucinatory beauty. It's not without precedent – the spirits of Coil, Debussy, Iannis Xenakis, Aphex Twin, Mozart and Phillip Glass hover in the wings – but instead of simply dicking around with recognition triggers, Arca blows the fuses of expectation.

Track titles like 'Umbilical', 'Anger' and 'Faggot' point to very personal themes, but despite its intrinsic Arca-ness, Mutant dictates nothing. Its trick is to set up a series of blank screens onto which we can't help but project ourselves, both slithering, dread-filled id and euphoric, in-control ego. And however vivid this record's interplays between light and dark, delicacy and brutality, intimacy and alienation, allure and repellence, they're instantly, intensely subjective, bypassing thought to make a beeline for the limbic brain.

There's no slow build here – the 20-track set twitches with vitality from the start. 'Alive' opens with a cascade of shattering synths that becomes a frenzied, polyrhythmic drive, abruptly stopping and starting to allow a sweet melody to flood through. It's a celebration, clearly. The title track less so. In one panoramic sweep, it conjures the death throes of a nuclear reactor and the skin-crawl skittering of insects across an alien landscape, acknowledging melodic convention only half way through and even then, barely. 'Sinner' is truly, deeply unsettling, suggesting Mutant as a companion volume to Mica Levi's score for Under The Skin, while 'Faggot' is a symphony of angry discordance that's developed with 'Soichiro' and resolved by the beautifully warped and watery piano piece 'Peonies', which closes the album.

Each track underscores Arca's talent for emotional translation. As ear-swivelling and rarefied as his sound might be (and if 'minimalist baroque' seems like a contradiction in terms, then too bad), it's somehow rooted in our collective unconscious. Whatever the aural equivalent of a spectacle might be, that's Mutant, which firmly establishes its creator as an auteur. Where he goes next is an interesting question. With several EPs and two albums under his belt, Arca is no longer the new kid whose maverick vision will reflect well on any premier-league artists putting out a collaboration call. He's now the competition.

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