by Zé Garcia
Remember the nightbus trend that was first articulated in 2009-2010? It was cinematic twilight: arousing, dejected, and demented. Arca's latest is night bus, militarized. Mutant sounds like a nocturnal, imagined war zone. Nighthumvee. Or maybe even nightdrone. Mutant is not as transgressive to the sonic pallet as Xen, less extroverted than Xen's forays into dembow ("Sisters") or the dissimilar reggaeton of Arca's absolute exemplar, "Thievery". Mutant does still feel like Arca is creating the most accurate soundtrack for a generation drowning in electronic excess and informational saturation, behaving and maneuvering erratically because of lived trauma, siphoned potential, and dreams deferred.
On "Alive" emergency response units resuscitate a dormant impulse towards capturing the emotions Arca portrays best: vastness and terror, awe and deep wounds. It sounds like a depersonalized aerial assault, flickering lights (or a flickering humanity). From on to off. For all its tragedy, there is a sense of hope in "Alive", one of the finest tracks of 2015. Like brief calms in a storm, "Mutant" pauses, the sonic walls dissolve & ripple, under siege by weaponry, the melancholy of a guitar like yearning gets codified into the fabric of sonic warfare. "Mutant"- the title track- gives "Alive" a run for the album's crowning achievement.
Alejandro Ghersi has a penchant for making the malformed sound erotic. "Vanity" sounds like something grotesque checking itself out in the mirror, feeling itself, unleashing a scathing wrath onto the listener in its self obsession. Album standout "Sinner" walks runways like "Bullet Chained", vogueing down an alley like a techno insect, sirens in the background, under a police state declared state of emergency. "Anger" almost sounds tropical in its first moments, filtered through a nightmare. "Snakes" is enigmatic, a ceremonial showdown in a cave near the sea at sunrise. A superlative version would feature FKA Twigs leading the ceremony, contorting, bizarre, making the serpents bow down. "Else" is the crystalline shattered pieces of "Held Apart" with added harpsichord. "Umbilical" first appeared on Sheep which I first described as sounding like Chancha Via Circuito purging his insides. "Hymn" and "En" are also taken from Sheep. "Hymn" is sonic anxiety, the cry of an elephant in crisis. "En" is luxurious, throttling, and sexy. "Front Load" and "Enveloped" are a return to Arca's shady, wayward hip-hop beats. The percussive elements of "Enveloped" seem taken from a vignette where artificial intelligence plays table tennis.
"Gratitud" is disconcerting yet inessential at almost 4 minutes. "Faggot" points to an imagined Asia with faint traces of Fatima Al Qadiri's Asiatisch before Arca grabs the luminous machine gun of his sonic arsenal and takes down all the haters. Album closer "Peonies" is also forgettable, nothing close to the epic final moments of Xen or Sheep. The excellent "Soichiro" follows in the steps of this "imagined Asia", deploying that legendary elephantine trumpet. Not sure what "Soichiro" means in the context of Soichiro Honda and the fact that Arca is also the acronym for the Automobile Racing Club of America other than Alejandro Ghersi's music does make for some pretty visionary blunt cruises in fast cars.
I've always described Arca as colossal, an epic Arca de Noé of sound. And although Mutant lives in a similar sonic continuum as Xen (our #4 album of 2014) and the luminary Sheep, Arca will have to increase our sonic threshold soon. We have built a tolerance to Alejandro Ghersi's demented soundtracks. We need a stronger dose.