Arca - Xen

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  • The tracks Alejandro Ghersi makes as Arca rarely cohere to normal ideas of structure or rhythm. His early Stretch releases for UNO made the human voice sound malleable and sickly. Then, of course, came Kanye West's Yeezus—where Ghersi could be heard in the evil, warped snarl of tracks like "I'm In It" and "Send It Up"—and his equally challenging work with FKA twigs. The squirming electronics of the 25-minute "&&&&&" felt like a response to all the attention that Yeezus kicked up, and Xen takes a similarly erratic path. The album is named after Ghersi's alter-ego: "Xen is not really a boy and it's not really a girl, and her mere existence is kind of repulsive and attractive at once," he recently told Fader. It's that contrast of beauty and ugliness that Ghersi explores over these contorting, confusing 40 minutes. Nothing about the way Ghersi tackles sound is traditional. Consider that "Slit Thru," which is essentially a trip-hop track, sticks out on Xen simply because of how normal it sounds. This is an elusive record that's surprising almost every time you listen to it. Ghersi's butterfingers style of songwriting is both fascinating and frustrating—it's clear that he's in full control at all times, but he makes otherwise beautiful songs like "Sad Bitch" and "Family Violence" feel volatile. These two have baroque classical touches that come out in frantic spurts, and their titles reflect an emotional undercurrent that comes and goes as quickly as any other element of the album. There's also "Lonely Thug," which seems to poke fun at the sad-boy persona of modern hip-hop with its immaculately hurt synths and perfectly booming drum pattern. But even that one's not as simple as it looks: it's based on a "fantasy character" of Ghersi's who is both eroticized and ridiculed. That's the thing about this music—it's always more complex than it sounds. Ghersi's most alluring quality has always been his slipperiness. After all, Xen is a tale of fluidity and self-discovery, and just as any one person can transcend identities forced on her by others, so can music. The result is an album that's never quite what you want it to be, nor for that matter is it any one thing for more than a few minutes. A noted producer for some incredibly influential artists (with Björk next on the list), Arca has expectations placed on him that would terrify most artists his age (24 at the time of writing). You wouldn't know it from Xen, however, which remains as singular—and often as brilliant—as the rest of the Arca catalogue.
  • Tracklist
      01. Now You Know 02. Held Apart 03. Xen 04. Sad Bitch 05. Sisters 06. Slit Thru 07. Failed 08. Family Violence 09. Thievery 10. Lonely Thugg 11. Fish 12. Wound 13. Bullet Chained 14. Tongue 15. Promise