- As a foil to leftfield pop stars, Arca is a fascinating artist. Working within the constraints of song form, his unique music takes his collaborators to surprising new places. His solo career, meanwhile, is not a compromise with pop so much as a gradual rejection of it. We started with the woozy kinda-rap of Stretch 1 & 2, and ended up at last year's Xen, whose frosty melodies wandered through an inter-genre no-man's-land. Mutant drifts further still from familiar coordinates.
This could be great if the album were presented in a more digestible way. Stepping into Mutant is a bit like wandering into a sculpture park, one full of abstract works (20 of them, to be exact) that were probably made with strange modern plastics and the help of a computer program. The forms are extraordinary and the surfaces dazzling, but it's unclear how to navigate through them. You're impressed but also confused, and you keep an eye out for the exit.
Several tracks shine regardless. The seven-and-a-half minute "Mutant" is by far the heaviest, with swarms of explosions, banks of extravagant melody and a string coda. "Sinner" attacks the speakers with a battery of pistoning drums. Often it's the familiar moments that are the most rewarding, like the stately IDM of "Front Load," or "Extent," whose lapping chords channel a simple ambient mode. The latter track is extremely beautiful, but beyond causing it to wobble gently out of focus, Arca doesn't seem to know where to take it.
This seems to be where Arca's interest lies: the surface of his audio, and ways to disturb it. Sounds are exploded into granular clouds, their transients duplicated a dozen times per second, or processed so that they drift unstably in pitch and timbre. Half of the time the effect is spellbinding. The other half it feels like misdirection, an attempt to distract us from the lack of clear orientation in the music. Arca's acrobatic melodies, the strongest presence in his weightless world, don't offer much reassurance. These sorts of somersaults aren't so impressive when there's no law of gravity pulling you down.
12. Front Load