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