Review Summary: Arca blends the gorgeous and the grotesque in a haunting art pop record.
Conversations about Arca
inevitably revolve around its striking creative switch-up: Alejandro Ghersi is now singing over his outré electronic production, taking after his heroes through centering an artistic persona. It was Bjork after all who raised the suggestion, catching him singing a tune on a casual car ride. He shrugged it off at first, but deep respect for her wisdom had him peering more closely at the possibility. The leap of faith he’s taken under her guidance has proven to be rewarding: Arca
is one of the most gripping releases of the early year, a bruised rumination on the nature of trauma through a distinctly queer lens.
Ghersi is fascinated with alienhood, the markers of deviancy that set creatures apart. He’s called the CGI woman in his iconic “Thievery” video an alter-ego; the Mutant
gracing his last album cover played a similar role. Now he’s embodying a foreign being himself: the music videos of Arca
are essential, crystallizing a visual element to the music. Queer oppression undergirds them all, most notably the aftermath of violence. Ghersi never intends to celebrate violence – he’s drawn to its markers, how people carry trauma on their bodies. The visuals offer an entry point to making sense of Arca
, encouraging the listener to envision their own scenes to the soundscapes.
The songs are all sung in Spanish, which contributes another layer of “otherness.” I don’t know a lick of Spanish so I like pretending that Ghersi is communicating in an alien language here, an interior dialect. The album is like a schizophrenic Agaetis Byrjun
to me, “Flugufrelsarinn” mapped onto a wasteland of debris. Lyrics are unnecessary when you have a voice communing with celestial pain like this. The vocal takes are delightfully blemished, creaks and rasps furthering a sense of intimacy. It’s Ghersi’s catharsis, but there’s enough compassion here for the listener to refract their own life experience. He states that intent beautifully in an interview with Vice: “If there's a sadness running through your life, you must attempt to tune yourself in to a frequency where you harmonise with it. That's what healing is. It's not forgetting about something or denying it, it's harmonising with it.”
I reckon the sonic approach might be a sticking point for some: the aggression of his previous music has been replaced with an art pop framework. It’s less blistering, but there’s still an intensity to the experience. “Urchin” vacillates in place with cinematic bursts of synths and percussion; “Reverie” plays with high drama in its action flick sound effects; “Fugaces” evokes melancholia in its cavernous bliss of synths and piano chords. The production is in service of the songs rather than showboating his skills. While it’s effective, I find myself wishing for more to unearth on repeat listens. Approaching this from a pop angle is how you locate the gems: the main melody of “Anoche” has become engrained in my subconscious; “Desafio” scales ecstatic pop heights, an immediate stunner unlike anything he’s done. With Arca
, Ghersi has truly come into his own as an artist, imbuing his art with a deep sense of purpose. For the listeners that tap into its golden frequency, it can feel like a revelation.