Album Review: Arca – ‘Mutant’

Pushing experimental pop production to its very limits, shadowy Brooklyn producer Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca,  has left his fingerprints on a slew of high-profile collaborations with Kanye West, Bjork, Kelela, Mykki Blanco and FKA Twigs.

As Arca, Ghersi combines his boundary-pushing sound design with deeply personal inspirations to create surreal and uniquely expressive Avant-pop. During a childhood marked by a deep-seated struggle with sexuality, Ghersi frequently employed the ambiguously genderless alter ego Xen while diarising his feelings. In 2014, Arca revived this dissociative alias for the title of a deeply introspective and experimental album (Xen) which stood as a benchmark for what Ghersi’s talents could achieve, and his new album Mutant continues to build outwards from the artistic foundation of the previous LP. While Xen was an artistic examination of self, Mutant draws inspiration from the interpersonal relationships which have defined the producer’s life.

From the very get go, Arca’s seductive and hypnotic production draws the listener into his world. Defying genre and songwritng convention, minimalistic sonic textures rendered from warped experimental noise form the core of Arca’s signature sound. One feature that tethers Arca’s music to our conventional musical language is the faint traces of hip hop inspiration which lurks beneath the aggression of Arca’s driving beats.

Alive opens the album with stuttering strobes of abrasive noise and static synthesised sounds. These salvos of crashing experimental noise seethe and shift, never lingering too long upon a single melody, timbre or sonic element. Sharing the album’s title, second track Mutant delivers sparse, yet immersive sonic textures, processed beyond recognition to meld into a dark illusionary world. The disorientating track climaxes in an emotive moment of feverish euphoria, conveyed by ascending arpeggios and the warm textures of warped strings.

With towering experimental sounds akin to noise duo Fuck Buttons circa  Street Horrrsing, Vanitys plucked synths and ambient pads evoke feelings of transcendence. As the name might suggest, ambient fifth track Anger is underpinned by hissing and simmering synths, with furious ever-skipping beats littered between. Fleeting samples of Latino radio throwback to the producer’s childhood in Venezuela.

Returning to themes of sexuality and struggle for identity, Faggot makes sonic references to Xen, with incisive chimes and reverberant vocals that blend into following track Soichiro. Acting as an outro, Peonies ebbs in energy, sending the album slowly drifting towards its inevitable conclusion.

Creating something which resonates from that which is many ways alien, Mutant’s expressive improvisatory tracks seduce the listener into taking a journey through the producer’s dark inner reality. Oscillating between melancholic swells, delicate euphoria and primal aggression Mutant creates an unconventional sonic environments encompassing fantasy worlds and booming alien soundscapes. While Mutant may lack some of the novelty of Xen, Arca continues to deliver some phenomenal work with his otherworldly and deeply emotive tracks.

Mutant will be released November 20. Pre-order the album here.