Review Summary: Arca goes off the deep end.
In retrospect, introducing myself to Arca’s work via his latest release Sheep
was a mistake, although I can still take solace in the fact that it served as a – somewhat uneasy – pathway to an otherwise rewarding voyage. For someone unfamiliar with Arca’s work, this sixteen-minute mixtape can make for a squeamish experience, spontaneously skipping to and from unorthodox concepts and routinely catching the listener off guard. Sheep
is best heard in the context of Arca’s discography, so his development as an artist and producer can be appreciated in a digestible, linear fashion. Forays into past material shed light on the seeds that would eventually germinate into the lunacy here, and ultimately it was the return listens – now properly acquainted and armed with newfound insight – upon which Sheep
began to click.
is fascinating in that it makes a complete stylistic detour from Xen
while retaining the latter’s core-aesthetic, manipulating it in such a way that the two become polar opposites, atmospherically. The extra-terrestrial vibe that appears to be something of a signature for Arca remains, but his characteristically warm, endearing, nonchalant approach has shifted towards something more deliberate and maddening. The hip-hop elements that formed the crux of his sound have been completely stripped back, leaving a bare frame that is part techno and part sound collage, with a strong ambient tilt. Overlapping synth lines are joined by a myriad of effects and samples, including monosyllabic vocal utterances, exotic wind instruments, real-world and electronically generated noises as well as – gasp – cloven-hoofed creatures of the woolly variety. Arca tends to avoid using traditional percussive sounds to form the rhythmic engine of each song, though tracks like “Sifter”, “Submission”, “Hymn” and “Don’t / Else” are exceptions. Instead, an array of blips, clangs, whirrs and looped, oscillating vocal snippets underpin a good portion of the score. Sheep
doesn’t rely on hefty repetition and modulation to create an atmosphere, preferring for each sequence to contrast dramatically with the preceding one. Thus, there seems to be little connecting the tracks from a thematic point of view, although this is almost certainly a deliberate ploy on Arca’s part.
This tactic combined with the peculiar sonic make-up results in a listen that can be truly baffling, and for that reason may not be very hospitable to those unaccustomed with Arca’s distinctive style. To put it simply, Sheep
is insane, and will quickly torment you into subordination if you aren’t primed for its assault. However, while it may be a rough introduction should you so choose to start your Arca trip here, Sheep
is still a remarkable little piece, sure to grow on you once your journey comes full circle.