Stretch 2, Arca
UNO NYC, Venezuela
by Pierre Lestruhaut
At this point, it’s understandable why it seems so hard for anyone at CF to write about Arca. Carlos Reyes himself told me he found his music deeply fascinating but had the hardest trouble articulating why after I announced I was going to battle my neurons and exhaust my own serotonin trying to review Stretch 2, Arca's third release of the year. The fairly wide exposure and assorted display of reviews he’s been getting since releasing it has proven to be a worthy guide into How to Review Arca, if only to spare myself from surrendering to the gushing critical cop-out of “words could not describe how great this is” I sort of fell into while reviewing his debut EP Barón Libre. Except perhaps this time we won’t oblige ourselves in hiding the artist's identity to protect his anonymous status, considering how it’s just been made widely public who Arca really is.
But fuck that. If Burial has been earning continuous critical accolades for half a decade without anyone giving a fuck about William Bevan, then why couldn't we discuss Arca's work without the unnecessary delving into the author’s conspicuously divergent past musical work? Detaching the oeuvre from the identity of its authorship is itself a respectable artistic statement too, though at this point it’s probably just going to get you a lot of needless comparisons with aforementioned uber shy beat maker. Yet considering the similarities they both sport in their sonic palette–the use of negative space, the highly processed vocals, and the dreary-club-at-2-am atmosphere–they’re in fact working within a very similar set of moods and sensitivities.
Looking closer, though, one starts to discover some fluctuations within Arca's own palette, revealing a shape-shifting aesthetic that eludes all possible shelving of it under a satisfyingly similar pre-existing umbrella. And that’s when writers like us end up staring at our screen for hours, helplessly thinking how to write about stuff like this. Because we can’t really figure out what the fuck this is, even though we've got a clear feeling it seems to be landing somewhere at the intersection of dubstep, southern rap, Salem and trip-hop. It’s as if Arca’s taken the old Groucho Marx quote of not wanting to belong to any club that would have you as a member a bit too seriously, shrugging off any possibility that there might be someday a term that could satisfyingly describe his music on his upcoming AllMusic page. Not that he’s showing off in genre-hopping presumptuousness; he’s just applying such elusiveness into tailoring his own aesthetic.
Although Arca has certainly found his place among the family of young label UNO NYC–sporting a fine roster that usually works within the frames of ghoulishly distressing forward-thinking electronica–he also seems to stand out from it by the sheer breadth of the work he has done in less than a year of releasing material. Consider just how much Stretch 2 elicits such a wide array of moods and feelings: a record that starts with shape-shifting drums inducing a sense of claustrophobia and lack of space (“Self Defense” and “Fortune”), quickly evolves into codeine-infused stoney numbers (“2 Blunted” and “Tapped In”), and just as we move through the rave synth-driven hook of “Broke Up” (at which point Arca’s alien vocals find their funkiest incarnation), closers “Meditation” and “Manners” dismiss vocals and eeriness altogether, instead patiently building a steady beat around angelic chords and soft vocal harmonies.
It would be natural to think that such a wide array of sounds would place him at the heart of eclectic trend-setter coolness, yet it’s his constantly shifting set of moods and the roller-coaster of emotions he elicits that actually responds to the more primal and visceral feelings we seek while listening to music. It’s fair to talk about Swans’ The Seer, a record so uninterested in the current musical landscape people can only talk about it in terms of the whole experience of listening to it, how it focuses solely in getting us to the visceral, the impulsive, and the anxious. Arca gets us there too, yet his M.O. is so broadly absorbent and referential (while also being so damn elusive of trends) that it works so well as both an emotional and a cerebral experience. As his palette continues to gracefully stretch in unexpected directions, it’s safe to say that the whole narrative behind Arca is essentially the expansion of his own aesthetic.