ALBUM REVIEW: Arca, Arca
Updated: Mar 10, 2022
There is a point in every experimental artist’s life where they can either choose to step into the limelight or continue to be shrouded in darkness. Famously, SOPHIE went from being what sounded like a computer generated anonymous popstar to revealing herself as a fully blossomed woman in the “It’s Okay To Cry” music video. Similarly, FKA twigs has gone from obscure trip-hop vocalist to Future collaborator and model within the span of just a few years. The best acts in this field are able to take the creativity bred out of their relative anonymity and translate it to a wider audience without losing a step. It was insane and tragic to see SOPHIE come and go with just one real album in this phase, a masterpiece at that. The world is a colder place without her artistry, but I’m happy that her contemporary Arca has taken a similar path to her in the music industry and has succeeded wildly as a result.
While KiCK i really saw Arca demystified, rapping in plain English on “Nonbinary” about French tips and designer bags, it was her self-titled that saw her beginning to shed her old, instrumental only skin. Before this point, we got a series of beat tapes like Xen, Mutant and &&&&& that proved her to be one of the greatest working producers. After grinding bones to make her bread in the infamous Yeezus sessions, she continued to make pop a darker and more unforgiving place with excellent spots on projects by FKA twigs, Kelela and Bjork. Her tag-team efforts with sonic excavator The Haxan Cloak on Bjork’s Vulnicura was her shining moment in my opinion, and led her to make the Pitchfork-certified beat tapes which then led her to her self-titled. Finally, it was time for Arca to write about herself, and of course with her track record of production credits, her self-titled is a dust storm of unrequited love, heartbreak, mutilation and sexual desire.
Arca by Arca is her greatest achievement yet, because it’s quality is a result of years of hard work and fine-tuning that can only be credited to her. Rosalia and Bjork aren’t popping up to lend a helping hand as they did on the wonderful KiCK i, everything that is stated is hers and every beat is chiseled to fit the raw emotions of Arca the person. The album opens with the weary “Piel”, which sets up the sonic blueprint that many later tracks follow. We start with some light humming, feedback and lyrics like “take the skin from yesterday off me” and “take the honey off me”, which is a visual trope that sticks throughout the project. Skin as honey, honey as nourishment, nourishment as love, love as being unobtainable and desperately sought after. “Without you, I don’t know anything”, the song ends, and the production begins to slowly ramp up, a dark cloud overhead begins to form, and Arca is ready to reveal more of her pain to us. The record is like a symphony in reverse. Rather than obscurity opening up to clarity, a clear headed soundscape slowly begins to decay and become unclear as Arca’s lyrics become more hopeless.
The Bjork influence and respect is abundantly clear from the second track “Anoche”, a song about dreaming and longing for a lover she hasn’t met you (bringing me back to “I Miss You” off of Bjork’s Post). On this song, sweetness slowly begins to turn violent, as lyrically she goes from “Last night I dreamt of you/your figure in my arms” to “Last night I dreamt/Of our simultaneous death”. The Arca of her self-titled is similar to Eartheater on Phoenix, the love is fiery, passionate and heartbreak will result in a city being reduced to ashes. Arca has this beautifully low baritone vocal style that gets under your skin, and when it hits it’s peaks, you can feel it. I feel roughly the same way about her instrumentals, many of which are laid bare on this album with no vocals at all. Tracks like “Castration” act as interludes, and truthfully, I think they’re better than a majority of what landed on her beat tapes. While I enjoy songs like “Sad Bitch” and “Mother” for how insane and different they are, I feel as though she really found the sweet spot between catchy industrial aesthetics and harsh noise on this album. “Whip” has got to be my absolute favorite on here, especially after the unrequited love on “Coraje”. It just sounds like Arca is completely disappointed in herself and she is self-flagellating and screaming at the top of her lungs in pain. While other artists like Frank Ocean try to find meaning to failed relationships in a taxi cab, Arca is just like FUCK YOU FUCK ME FUCK THE WORLD AHHHHHHHHHHHHH and tortures herself, and by a result, the listener too. It fucking rocks.
Many tracks on here, like “Reverie” and “Sin Rumbo” find her in a daydream, aimlessly walking through life.. The former has this revving beat with some kind of distorted synth that sounds like a guitar, something that fellow experimentalist Oneohtrix Point Never mastered on Garden of Delete. This track is more hopeful regarding love, with lyrics like “When love arrives like this/The genipap tree comes to life again” This slight hope is destroyed just two tracks later on “Sin Rumbo”, which takes a more somber and drumless tone. The vocals are very opera-inspired as she sings about not being able to touch the person she loves, and how she sees them changing from afar. It’s such an intense journey of ups-and-downs here, with my favorite track, “Desafio”, feeling like one last sexual plea to get it all back in order. “Love me and tie me down and slit my throat” she says in the opening stretch, followed up “Ready or not/There is an abyss inside of me” The beat kicks off with these emergency sirens and a club beat, which is the perfect summation of Arca. She is this massive robotic imposing force that someone pissed off and now everyone needs to hide in their bunkers until the dance music stops. The way she portrays herself is just so fearless to me, especially since she began to transition genders in her personal life. She just really lays her soul bare for everyone to see and judge, like a black and red flower beginning to blossom. On top of that, the fact that this album is all in Spanish and the emotions are conveyed so well speaks to how universal her sound and message is.
While KiCK i is certainly more exciting and in your face, this project is more riveting. She is able to sustain this emotional intrigue from front to back, being as experimental and dark as ever while still being able to sing her heart out. As far as albums about heartbreak go, this is without a doubt one of the greatest. The journey she has made since the release of this is astounding, from toiling and tinkering underground to modeling for Bottega and Calvin Klein and working with A-listers, it’s pretty crazy to see this rise. She may be completely in the limelight now, on buses and billboards, but for a brief time between 2017-2018, she was able to truly have it both ways. Light and dark, known and unknown, lovely and destructive, sonically beautiful and horrific.