Arca – ‘Mutant’

A second album of twisted futurism from Björk’s right-hand man

Even before the release of his debut album ‘Xen’ last year, Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) had already been recruited by FKA Twigs, Kanye West and Björk, becoming the main creative foil on the latter’s ‘Vulnicura’. How does a 25-year-old Venezualan producer with no real track record become rapidly embroiled with three of the world’s pre-eminent musical visionaries?

On the one hand, it’s a story of how the internet has democratised music, of how any bedroom beatmaker with the right sound can suddenly find themselves summoned to the top table. But there’s clearly more to Arca than your average Ableton whizkid. ‘Xen’ drew on queer theory and the concept of gender fluidity to create an eerie cacophony of writhing rhythms and amorphous sounds that gave little clue as to their origin. Catfish & The Bottlemen it was not.

‘Mutant’ continues to explore some of those ideas, but it’s a tad more welcoming and direct. There’s another androgynous, slightly grotesque figure on the cover, but at least this time it doesn’t appear to be masturbating. Played on trebly synths and futuristic approximations of Chinese and Caribbean folk instruments, Arca’s melodies now feel more human, even as they’re sucked into whooshing vortexes of electronic sound. It means that tracks such as ‘Vanity’ – a thrilling surge of distorted steel drums and vaporous drops – feel euphoric as well as faintly unsettling.

Arca is obviously influenced by hip-hop, R&B and dubstep, but the way he distorts and subverts familiar aural cues, never allowing his beats to lock into conventional grooves, is designed to question the aggressive gender pigeonholing of these genres. ‘Sever’ and ‘Faggot’ cleverly turn trap’s energy
against itself, while serene interludes like ‘Else’ and ‘Extent’ provide a quietly triumphant counterpoint to the album’s more disorientating noise assaults.

‘Mutant’ comes with its own set of carefully thought-out artistic imperatives – “sensuality and impulsiveness as escape routes out of rigidity,” says the man himself – but unlike ‘Xen’ you don’t need to brush up on your cultural theory to appreciate it. Arca’s found a way to convey some quite complex ideas and emotions without the need for lyrical cues. Yet there are still moments, as on ‘En’ or the testing seven-minute title track, when his intentions remain obscure and you’re left contemplating an ugly pile-up of fractured beats and annoying sounds.

As disarmingly brilliant ‘Mutant’ can be at times, it’s still deliberately obscure. If Arca can start taking as much from Björk and Kanye as they’ve taken from him, he might be able to start really blowing minds.