Venezuelan-born and now UK-based electronic producer Arca (real name Alejandro Gersi) has seen his profile skyrocket over the last two years thanks to his production on Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ album and FKA Twigs recent debut album ‘LP1.’ The fact that he’s apparently also responsible for a lot of the production on Bjork’s next album adds another hefty stir to the pot, conspiring to make him one of the most hotly-tipped new names of the moment. On the heels of his two ‘Stretch’ Eps for UNO NYC, ‘Xen’ finally offers up Arca’s highly anticipated debut album on Mute Records, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. More than anything this album is difficult to categorise, and if there’s one unifying theme that unites these fifteen abstracted and constantly shifting tracks, it’s perhaps the vaguely neoclassical feel that permeates through many of the synthetic arrangements.
Opening track ‘Now You Know’ offers a chameleonic journey on its own, emerging from a delicate intro of smeared synths as echoing synth arpeggios fade into the focus, the cycling electronics never quite getting a chance to build as vast, cracking beats suddenly pummel them into the ground against cut-up flute samples and bright, jittery keyboards. ‘Sad Bitch’ meanwhile offers up a stark landscape of icy synths that calls to mind the likes of John Carpenter and Plaid in equal measure, before the entire track suddenly waltzes forth into a swell of pitch-manipulated string stabs and spiralling keys.
Elsewhere, ‘Failed’ offers up a slow, ebbing wander through what sounds like treated shamisen plucks and melancholic bass swells that offers up what’s easily one of this album’s most filmic and delicate moments, the appearance of cycling minor keys addding an ominous undercurrent. It’s with ‘Wound’ though that a tangibly human presence finally begins to emerge from the coldly intricate synthetic textures, as wordless Autotuned vocals waft like smoke against a majestic lush swell of forlorn strings and glowing organ keys. Perhaps more than anything else, there’s a detectable kinship here with the similarly intricate yet constantly elusive likes of Actress. Whatever the case, ‘Xen’ offers up one of 2014’s most enigmatic jewels.