Ximena Sariñana - No Todo Lo Puedes Dar

No Todo Lo Puedes Dar, Ximena Sariñana
Warner Music, Mexico
Rating: 78
by Sam Rodgers

2008 was an interesting year for pop music - six years ago, some of the now biggest names in music were still emerging or being scrutinized for longevity (Adele, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kanye, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, to name a few). We were also seeing a dismantling of genre, for every Kings of Leon in "rock", there was a Bon Iver; El Guincho was being fawned over by Pitchfork, and Calle 13 spawned a track called "Electro Movimiento." In the "alternative" corner strange (MGMT, Juana Molina) and whimsical (Fleet Foxes, M83, Vampire Weekend) things were happening, better melodies were being written, now every layman was starting to get their head around this new-fangled website called YouTube (2 years old) and the mainstream would soon spend time with unknown music if the visuals were eye-catching enough (OK, Go's "Here It Goes Again" was early in 2009).

The year 2008 could be seen as the year obscurity started finding that spotlight quicker (five years later there'd be Lorde), and a year where there was plenty of space on the charts for female pop artists to fill (Taylor Swift was still playing country gal, and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It") came out just as the year ended). It was also the year Ximena Sariñana released Mediocre, a Grammy-nominated debut that seemed eager to showcase all the genres jostling for pop's crown at the time, from Alicia Key piano-smashing balladry (best tracks "Normal" and "Mediocre") to Natasha Bedingfield sunniness ("La Tina", "Vidas Paralelas"), all anchored by a signature voice not shy of jazz licks, and "old soul" lyric writing. Six years later, Sariñana has released her second LP in Spanish (after a valiant English-language release three years ago), and the pop landscape has changed yet again. Where does it fit?

With time, what worked best on Mediocre was Sariñana's knack for a biting lyric and memorable melody set to the moodier compositions. Here she seemed more genuine: whether it's because of the naturally dour timbre of her voice, or the slightly jarring nature of genre-hopping, it's unclear - but Sariñana could've been doing Daria-chic years before a certain New Zealander claimed it. Pop audiences can be unforgiving if an artist doesn't encapsulate an archetype, so it goes that her quest to be three-dimensional may have been Sariñana's undoing in the strictly pop world.

No Todo Lo Puedes Dar is Sariñana's most personal offering - there's definitely a more mature, experienced element to the lyrics, rather than the 'Life, In General, Can Suck It' grandiosity of youth - and Sariñana reports she produced 70 per cent of the album, steering it with more confidence, and presumably towards a more consistent sound. The first single, "Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal", stomps around the bedroom in cherry Doc Martens more than it skips, and the strangled self-confidence of the lyric reveals a self-aware petulance of those who've recently lost the beginnings of something. There's a (perhaps annoying) parallel with Taylor Swift's recent "Blank Space" in its tone, but the track is by no means a snapshot of the rest of the album.

The stormy piano ballads are here (title track and "Un Amor / En Medio de la Noche"), but with "Ruptura" and album closer "Cuidado Conmigo," Sariñana builds the songs until she's kicking back the piano stool and electric guitars and an orchestra are revealed behind the curtain - they are unforgiving battle cries, the latter a stand out track for its wall of noise (and credits to Álex Ferreira). Sariñana has been hurt, and the sombre tone imbues the whole album. Even when the opening of a track ("No Voy a Decir Que No") bounces along, Sariñana shifts gears in the bridge, using punchy minor key changes to remind the listener she's got a few more words to say on this wrongdoing. On the more upbeat numbers, Sariñana winks at the listener, letting us know she knows that she's crafted "just another" break-up album, again striving for a three-dimensionality, or self-awareness that, while mostly forgivable (the aforementioned melodic "traps" she lays down for former paramours), at other times can come across as self-conscious (a laugh at the end of the brilliantly enigmatic "Parar a Tiempo" is puzzling). While there's heartache here, there's not much wallowing. Lines are being drawn, defiantly.

Sonically, there is a clearer theme of continuity helped by co-"composer," Juan Manuel Torreblanca, whose touches are felt throughout with experimental dramatics. There are moments of perfect sublimity throughout No Todo Lo Puedes Dar: for the majority of "Parar a Tiempo", which is reminiscent of Color the Small One-era Sia in its intimacy; the jazz break of "La Vida No Es Fácil," a song which is positively reminiscent of a Lafourcade-filtered Lara track. There's enough grit, angst, and surprises on this album to keep it from Adult Contemporary land, which, one suspects, is not where Sariñana wants to end up (and seems where a label will want her). And this destination is the question only partially answered with No Todo Lo Puedes Dar. With her growly, un-angelic voice (in a good way), and undeniable songwriting talent, what boundary does Sariñana want to push next? One can't help but wonder - especially on the more volcanic outbursts on this album - that Sariñana will benefit most from letting shit fly, using her obviously sophisticated tastes to ground rather than influence a less hemmed-in version of herself. Here she's toeing the line between likeable pop and a dirtier alternative, how she refines this will be another step closer to owning a sound that's purely Sariñana-esque.

Arca - Xen

Xen, Arca
Mute, Venezuela
Rating: 90
by Zé Garcia

How does one find the words to articulate an album that is more akin to a film score from one of the most mesmerizing and visionary pop artists of our time? Everyone around the world is talking about Arca but lets get one thing straight, around here we first met Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) as Nuuro. Did we expect the laptop pop guy who made Reddest Ruby to go on to make the avant-garde Yeezus, the seductive nightmarish r&b of FKA twigs, and now, forthcoming, Bjork? Who will Arca work with next? Missy Elliott?

Xen, Arca’s debut LP, finds Arca at his most repulsive & introspective -it is a malformed triumph for queer electronica. Yes, Ghersi used to love the Spice Girls (I was more into the S Club 7 myself), yes Ghersi is queer, and yes, Ghersi looks great wearing only a jockstrap. But Xen isn’t Channel Orange, so Ghersi’s queerness is merely anecdotal. For this music journalist, it will be very difficult to separate Xen the album from “Xen,” the androgynous post human entity Arca described in his interview with The Fader earlier this year. “Xen” is always in the public limelight, at times grotesque, at times sensuous. Even though Xen is not a woman (or human?) she is more comfortable with female pronouns. Xen is a state of mind for Arca and I am drawn to something he said in the interview, talking about his childhood in Latin America: "I loved the idea I could let myself operate in openness to both science and superstition.” In many ways, this is the essence of Arca: the science of skilled music production and the superstition of allowing sonic spirits to operate through him. Arca is the conduit for the most intriguing & menacing music available right now both for perceived mainstream listeners and music connoisseurs alike. Ghersi is an "Arca de Noé” of sound if you will. Yes, it can be that monumental. 

Xen comes out when Arca smokes some weed and starts trying on different clothing- in similar ways Ghersi admits he used to cross dress as a child when his parents were out of the house. His father also worked as a transnational investment banker and Ghersi seems to have lived a rather privileged yet ominous life- the armed body guards, private music lessons, gated communities- this kid is elite. Is this maybe at what Arca is getting at in “Family Violence”? See Xen (The Album) is like an audio visual tour of the “experience” of being “Xen” - harsh electronic landscapes that take up fragments of pop / hip hop / r&b, unsettling movie scores, and just as easily deconstructs them to reveal the darker corners of the post human / (un)human? psyche. This is Arca’s least hip-hop reliant release to date- indeed it is mostly cinematic suspense throughout its 40 minute duration. What does the habitat of “Xen” look like? Visualize a time capsule (with all the hallucinatory sounds of music, ideas, and varying states of sanity, and epic human drama) being launched into the darkest recesses of unfathomable deep space and you're getting closer to being able to reach "Xen.". 

Arca rarely finishes the uncomfortable states of mind he creates, instead layering electromagnetic waves of bursting sounds into dreadful but always spectacular psychosis. First track is the continuum that Arca operates best in: creaks of light throbbing into consciousness -in the distance alien & avian sound calls- the language of “Xen”? "Now You Know" gives way to the somber piano madness of “Held Apart"- the sort of painful, heavenly pastiche that precedes the album's title track. “Xen" chatters, “ Xen” vogues: deep hollow breathing, grunts - Xen is flexing sensuously, now creepy. The track pulsates into becoming a stripper anthem in the same universe where Laura Palmer does dance routines to “Neverland" by The Knife. The mesmerizing nighttime antics of the title track are found only in two other tracks- “Thievery" and "Bullet Chained”. “Sisters” does sound like reggaeton (good one Pitchfork, but I was already going to DJ this one in between Don Omar and Ivy Queen long before your review came out) and “Lonely Thug” might be the only thing that sounds like Baron Libre on here, besides maybe  “Tongue." 

“Failed" sounds just as its title suggests- dejected, melancholy, “Fish” like your brain is an egg yolk being deep fried by the Sun which then gives way to the longing and mournful "Wound". Reminescent of Ghersi’s vocals on "Avila” but transhuman, Ghersi sounds like the discontent of a pack of space wolves roaming, howling, searching for solace in space tundra. It is in “Wound” where we breach the security levels of Xen. She is vulnerable. She goes on stealth mode and ejaculates into the sadomasochistic industrial techno of "Bullet Chained" (sounding a lot like "On Sight" here, but you know, better) as if Xen the androgynous android were on a runway dodging drone strikes- synthy dance cataclysm with an elegant finish. “Tongue" licks with low frequencies and frenetic wobble bass-the affair sounds like locusts slicing at the airspace of Xen. Xen can go no further. Xen must self destruct - her swan song, the closing number "Promise" sounds like an epic implosion of the sonic biosphere Arca created for her. 

So is “Xen” Arca’s best work to date? It is definitely his most antisocial undertaking- as if he was providing a soundtrack to a myriad of mental diseases being carved out of modern alienation. But Arca also does the same for crafting modern euphoria, sounding like our collective & disjointed projections of what future popular music might (and does) sound like. Xen is a record for listeners who enjoy exploring the nervous recesses of wayward (yet mischievous and playful) mental states. Call me weird, but if the euthanasia coasters of transhumanist potential futures become a reality, I might choose to go out to Arca’s music- it is that cerebral, cinematic, epic. Whether you would ride out to Stretch 2&&&&& Xen or any other Arca release is entirely up to taste and mood. Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty Xen

Video: Arca - "Now You Know"

The Global Hipster's current favourite Venezuelan producer now living in London, Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca, casually dropped the video for second single and opening track "Now You Know" from his just-released first LP, Xen, last week, amongst the clammer and bewilderment of the music press, touting him the "newest" sound in music since sliced musique concrète, pointing to his collaborations with Kanye and FKA twigs and the upcoming Björk album, and how, in just a short amount of time, he is the most sought-after producer in the world (perhaps) -even with just two EPs and the baffling mix-tape &&&&& under his belt - here Ghersi presents a visual spectacle, directed by Jesse Kanda, that takes the spectator into the middle of a fireworks display, as if they sent a drone up inside a New Year's celebration, the track at the mercy of the rockets and yet, at the same time, dictating each burst and fizzle - the staccato beats, the twisting static, the hydraulic arm of a fairground ride compressing and releasing - "Now You Know" is carnivalesque, a carousel with each horse on acid refusing to rise and fall in the way you expect: but that anticipatory space between sounds is where the listener creates a new melody each time - a tension between joyous abandon and fear of the fall, a dream in which you're not strapped in to the roller coaster car properly, giddy from the rush, exhausted from reading a paragraph-long sentence that attempts to recreate the breathless, hypnotic four minutes of this disorienting, though on repeated readings/listens, absurdly-logical track.