For Venezuelan producer and experimental electronica mastermind Arca, the last few years have been busy. In between producing for Björk’s Vulnicura and FKA Twigs’ EP2, he’s even had time for a mixtape and a second studio album. Arca’s fusion of post-industrial soundscapes with experimental pop sensibilities has defined his sound and recent output with a swathe of various collaborators, and his latest solo offering is no different. His self-titled third album may be a continuation in a similar direction, but the addition of his vocals changes everything. Arca is haunting, sometimes frightening, but always uneasy.
While rooted in electronica, Arca, much like the rest of the producer’s discography, finds itself rooted in elements of classical music. Arca has never found any trouble in binding together lush string orchestration with off-kilter electronic percussion, resulting in a sort of strange fusion of IDM and contemporary classical. It’s so minimal, yet so full. Arca realises his best weapon is the contrast between those full moments and those empty ones, evident on tracks like Anoche or Sin Rumbo, where quiet expanses give way to loud and tumultuous messes within seconds.
Arca is an album that straddles the line between ambience and aggression, often toying between the two – usually successfully, but sometimes indecisively. Some tracks really grasp this fragile relationship, like Reverie with its fast paced and uncontrollable rhythms, or Saunter’s grossly industrial textures. Yet on tracks like Coraje or Miel, Arca often seems to be struggling for ideas, unsure of the direction that his own music is moving in. Arca is full of great ideas, but it’s the moments when the songwriting grows decadent and excessive that it suffers – ambient compositions with no forward movement, rhythmic sections with no momentum, or entire songs with nothing binding it together. Occasionally this sense of disarray contributes to the atmosphere of uneasiness that Arca projects, but most often it makes tracks appear messy or forgettable.
The addition of Arca’s vocals is easily the biggest departure from his previous work. Obviously inspired by his work on Björk’s 2015 album Vulnicura, Arca’s performance takes on an unsettling operatic tone, not unlike Anohni’s rich and low register. Vocals transform plain electronica instrumentals into powerful and unrelenting pieces of music, equally unnerving as they are inspiring. The minimal opener Piel sees Arca provide almost birdsong-esque singing, quiet and incredibly haunting, while his multifaceted approach on Desafio coalesces perfectly with the layered synth instrumentation. Only on slower, less inspired tracks like Fugaces or Miel do vocals seem to add little – although in these cases, it’s not so much a fault of a poor performance as it is of poor songwriting.
Much of Arca’s instrumental work is as equally impressive without vocal support. The minute long interlude Whip is a beautiful mess of harsh noise and IDM, while Castration features bouncy electronics and off kilter dance rhythms. While Urchin may be slow to start, its second half is lush and explosive. Closing track Child is a satisfying finale too – those slightly off key, harp-like synths leave the albums on a haunting yet hopeful tone.
Arca is the famed electronic producer’s best project yet, and while it may not be perfect, it’s one of the far more interesting modern releases in IDM and electronica. By bringing together his industrial stylings with heartfelt vocal performances and aspects of art pop, Arca has procured both his most personal and most innovative music. It’s a chilling album, but it’s an album full of great ideas and maybe a few that need a little extra push.