Arca: Mutant

Arca's second album is a microcosm of the globalized world we live in, a chaotic hive that merges beauty and ugliness into a single awe-inspiring vision.

If the ability to switch from producing Kanye West to producing FKA Twigs to producing Dean Blunt to producing Björk can teach us anything about Alejandro Ghersi, it’s that the Venezuelan is capable of siting himself in several different places and occupying several divergent points of view at once. His first EPs in 2012 stand as precocious evidence of such a talent, their shotgun marriages of wonky electronic and industrialized hip-hop revealing a preternatural ability to fuse knee-jerk beats and liquid flourishes into a melting pot of unlikely sentiments, feelings, beliefs and identities.

This shape-shifting capacity was only heightened in his 2014 debut, Xen. A long player that welded electronic music of dizzying invention to abstracted emotionalism, its wayward, skewed mystery created a sound-world in which the edges of things were blurred into one heaving ocean of multiplicity. Tracks like the darkly lit “Failed” and the percolating “Now You Know” were as hard to pin down to a single point of reference as they were to forget, and as they whirled through their subaquatic electronica, the 25-year-old Ghersi emerged as a musical chameleon of the first rank, someone who transcended the complexity of his own influences and circumstances, not by distilling them into something simpler and more reductive, but by allowing their tensions and contradictions to remain spinning undisturbed in a kind of volatile quasi-balance.

However, as multifarious and motley as that album was, it’s dwarfed in its all-encompassing, pan-global coverage by its successor, the aptly titled Mutant. Rather than capitalize on the breakthrough that Xen represented for him with a more streamlined answer, this follow-up has Arca throwing everything — glitch, IDM, dubstep, industrial, techno, ambient, noise and world music — into an experimental microcosm of a record, an electronic hothouse where every conceivable touchstone coexists in an awkward, ugly but ultimately breathtaking harmony. Its bustling, condensed epics refuse to present a single, easily digestible vision of the world, yet in so doing they end up revealing this world in all its beautifully chaotic truth.

That’s not to say that Mutant is a bewildering, unlistenable mess though. Opener “Alive” jumps and flickers with a rampant energy that’s meticulously controlled as its hard-edged rhythms skitter towards their destination, creating a domineering sense of urgency and importance that sucks bystanders in almost immediately. Somewhat less immediate, but eventually even more impressive and forceful, is the seven-minute title track, which careens for its first two minutes through anarchic bursts of digital aggression. Gradually, an insistent, percussive melody congeals out of its primordial soup, leading the initial explosions and convulsions through an evolutionary tour of twitchy soundscapes, breakneck skipping, and finally an unveiling of epiphanic strings. The skill that Ghersi displays in stitching all of these disparate elements into an implausibly satisfying aural patchwork is remarkable, and as the stirring coda plays itself out, it’s hard not to regard his stitching as testimony to a belief that order can always be found in disorder, light seen within darkness, hope experienced in despair, and so on.

Such contrasts aren’t entirely surprising, considering how the London-based producer’s M.O. for Mutant pretty much seems to involve packing its songs with everything potentially susceptible to manipulation. “Anger” contains disconnected samples of Latin-tinged folk music interposed with buzzing riffs that live up to the cut’s name, while “Sinner” wrenches air-raid sirens, automatically rampant beats, and cavernously somber piano into an intense if schizophrenic rush that forces the listener her or himself to decide whether it radiates malice or mournfulness. Of course, it gives off both, with such a transgression of the either/or dichotomy, of the law of the excluded middle, being one of the album’s greatest sources of richness and evocation.

This unlikely juxtaposition of emotions aside, the primary opposition-busting combination at the heart of Mutant is that of the primitive with the progressive. With cornucopian fits like the maddening “Umbilical”, the elemental and the primeval are melded seamlessly with the relentlessly modern. On the one hand, the wildly flashing electronics and on-edge atmospherics of this song betoken a race for innovation that threatens to divorce us from our humanity, while on the other, its tribal chants and synthesized djembes maintain a link to that same humanity. Together, they powerfully suggest that the world’s mad dash for riches doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive of a reverence for its heritage.

Not only that, but there’s something very fundamental to Arca’s palette on Mutant that evokes the most basic and primal element of us homo sapiens, even when it sounds unnervingly future-tense and alien. To take a prime example, the eerie “Gratitud” is a floating procession of syncopated whole and half-notes whose very isolation hints at an unbridgeable cleavage from the past and all it embodies. At the same time, Ghersi lathers them with enough deep-seated echo and reverb to invoke a correspondingly deep-seated part of ourselves, to invoke the suspicion that the song is coming into contact or resonance with something that had remained buried and dormant for a very long time. Once again, that this effect is being produced by such high-pitched, metallic and peculiarly futuristic instrumentation is surprisingly moving, and another demonstration of Ghersi’s apparent conviction that opposites and contradictions do not necessarily have to cancel each other out.

If anything, he spends the duration of Mutant encouraging the fusion of binaries and contradictions. He does it on “Vanity”, where grandiose floods of wattage intercept self-meditating lulls, and he does it on “Soichiro”, where extremely busy clicks and snares only heighten the pathos of windswept chords. As a whole, such unexpected reconciliations propagate a laudably idealistic and positive worldview, a dedication to a future in which black and white, religious and irreligious, West and East and whatever else can peacefully exist side-by-side, without one damaging or destroying the other.

Such a future would be complicated, one in which we’d have to become Mutant(s) in order to adapt to it, but as Arca so masterfully proves, we’d be all the richer for it. His second album is maelstrom of unresolved differences and pluralities, yet in accentuating these differences and pluralities rather than forcing them to compromise with each other, he’s crafted a record to get lost in, to lose your mind in, and to recast it in more enlightened form all over again. Truly, the Venezuelan’s brand of inchoate, diversified electronica is music for a globalized world, for an Earth in which ancient traditions sit alongside the often devastating power of new technologies, and in which human potential could be realized to an unprecedented extent if only we were inclined to use such technology humanely. Maybe we’ll never reach such a stage on the level of politics and economics, but at the very least, Arca has shown us how it can be reached on the level of art.

RATING 9 / 10