Looking back at the past five years of electronic-focused music, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that 26-year-old Venezuelan Alejandro Ghersi (bka Arca) has had on the current landscape. His production work has been a beacon for fans of inventive production that finds poignancy in the grotesque, whether on the chaotic id of Yeezus, the mournful dirge of Vulnicura, or the jarring, grooving angst of EPs by Kelela or FKA Twigs. Beyond his collaborations with others, his albums and mixes have been as, if not more, influential on current electronic and experimental music as his pop material. His latest mix, the foreboding Entrañas, is not only his most immediate work to date, but evidence that five years into his career, Arca’s music remains as relevant as ever.
In what has become a fairly predictable pattern for an artist whose work is defined by his use of unexpected ideas, Arca has settled into a routine of releasing mixes as stopgaps between studio albums. These mixes — including the &&&&& mix that preceded Xen and the Sheep mix that soundtracked a fashion show months before Mutant came out — often find Arca at his most daring and unhinged. Where Xen and Mutant stand out as more accomplished and ambitious statements, these mixes allow him to indulge his chaotic, destructive nature. By their very nature, the mixes exude a formless quality in which tracks bleed into each other, creating a disorienting feeling that demands to be absorbed all at once rather than taken in as varying pieces. There may be 14 tracks listed, but the 25 minutes of Entrañas blur and crash together. Though substantive, the mix is slippery and harsh with no center, no foothold to grasp onto for a sense of stability. However, where some might flail without that structure, Arca thrives.
The producer has always been obsessed with the grotesque, throughout his albums and the use of body horror in videos, but rarely has the terror felt as pronounced as it does on Entrañas. A jagged, bouncing beat arrives just after the midpoint, not unlike something from TNGHT or Andy Stott, but with broken shards instead of complete pieces. That leads to a layering of blood-curdling screams juxtaposed with slices of laughter, as a haunting choral melody takes hold. The moment is an onslaught that recalls the work of Skrillex, only while Sonny Moore plays his chaos in a hyperactive, agro demeanor, Arca presents similar sounds with an emphasis on claustrophobic panic, embracing the inherent tortured ugliness.
Arca’s music can often come off as obtrusive, cerebral sounds with no clear entry point. Opposed to the restraint present in parts of Xen and Mutant, Entrañas is purely visceral, constantly obliterating conventions. Whether it’s the sound of Mica Levi railing against gender norms over a barrage of hollowed out noise or a distorted use of the Cocteau Twins’ “Beatrix”, Arca’s sole intent is to break sounds apart. These sounds of devastation remain timely in a year that has grown tenser every day.
The underlying frenetic nature of Entrañas makes it all the more unsettling when the mix reaches its final track, the four-minute “Sin Rumbo” (which translates to “aimlessly”). The track finds Arca singing a forlorn ballad in Spanish, the most tragic and vulnerable he’s ever sounded. It’s an elegy of longing, pain, and bitterness. Lyrics translate to “Not being able to feel you, to kiss you,” and “I come to worship but from a distance,” before falling into a repetition of the title. He’s stuck, aimless, wandering. It’s a grand summation of the feeling of uncertainty and helplessness, manifesting in a lamentation as opposed to the indignant fury that made up the preceding 20 minutes. The set concludes with the sound of gunfire and explosions; the mix premiered on the Fourth of July, recalling celebratory fireworks as much as the threat of violence. Arca implements that dichotomy brilliantly throughout.
Since he emerged as a presence five years ago, Arca’s music has pushed against the norm. Ghersi and a new crop of cutting edge producers — artists like Rabit, Elysia Crampton, Lotic, and Chino Amobi — continue to push into deeper, darker corners of the electronic music world. Though he’s established himself on the largest of stages, Arca’s drive to push into even more distant extremes indicates that he’s grown far from complacent. His third studio album, Reverie, is reportedly due out later this year, and whether or not it falls in line with his trend of a more sedate record following an aggressive mix, Arca remains at the forefront of breaking down boundaries.
Essential Tracks: “Sin Rumbo”, “Baby Doll”,