Arca - @@@@@

  • An hour-long mixtape, inspired by "sci-fi pirate radio," underlines Arca's playful personality.
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  • Last month, Alejandra Ghershi released a 62-minute single called @@@@@, her first new music since 2017's Arca. Broadcast on NTS, visualized on YouTube and finally put on streaming services as one long track for XL Recordings, it's yet another release from Ghershi with an experimental format. @@@@@ operates in the same vein as 2013's &&&&& and 2016's Entrañas, records that are not quite albums nor mixes, but perhaps serve as outlets for the artist's many ideas in between. After all, Ghershi tinkers with a lot of new music without official release. Since her last studio album, she has toured extensively, performed for Burberry and created a four-part immersive performance for New York art center The Shed. (The artist also just announced her next LP, KiCK i.) It's possible that music from these projects inspire bits of @@@@@—but with few performance videos and strict no-phone policies at her shows, part of Ghershi's work is, at least in the iPhone era, ephemeral and untraceable. This way of being fits the new single's concept: sci-fi pirate radio. "@@@@@ is a transmission broadcasted into this world from a speculative fictional universe in which the fundamentally analogue format of FM pirate radio remains one of few means to escape authoritarian surveillance," she posted. Though it may be a fantasy framework for @@@@@, reality is not far off. We already live in a dystopian world where culture is dictated by machine-learning algorithms. By delivering a single, 62-minute piece of sound, Ghershi protects her individual tracks—which each have a title and time stamp—from becoming part of the data mining system. This move, however subtly, reminds us that taste should not be codified and rules aren't always right. Who better to deliver that message than Ghershi? @@@@@ is another test of limits, made up of 30 short, surreal and, most characteristically, jarring sketches. Similar to past mixtapes, where one track ends and another begins is hard to parse. Meanwhile, the rhythms are erratic and the sound design marries extremes—sharp and airy, mystical and mutant, psycho and serene. Standout moments show the best sides of Ghershi's production work. "No Lo Digas," at 34 minutes, aches with the poignant singing revealed on Arca. "Membrane," at 39 minutes, shows the idiosyncratic beatmaker, a soft instrumental that's as pretty as it is ragged, topped off with sensuous masculine whispering. "Apuro," at 42 minutes, and the following "Saintly Pride," also found in a 2018 Primavera Sound live show, are rambunctious rave bangers with Ghershi's industrial-sized drums. 
The single may be full of these kinds of highlights, but over its hour-long jumble of ideas—twice the length of Ghershi's other mixtapes—I wished more than once the "next" button were an option. @@@@@, much more casual and freeform than the artist's albums, is not so much a defining musical moment as it is another spectacular show of Ghershi's personality: the creature of chaos, the matriarch of experimental club, the artist who authentically straddles playful and profound. After repeat listens, I find myself enjoying @@@@@ most by starting around the 20-minute mark, with "Psychosexual," a track where Ghersi flaunts her attitude. "You can shake that pussy, bitch," she busts out over a slimy beat. "I don't care what genitals you were born with!"
  • Tracklist
      01. @@@@@