Adam Wray wrote this from the cloak room at Berghain.
Whether you liked Yeezus or not, you must admit that the circumstances of its creation are compelling. Rick Rubin checking in in the fourth quarter to play reducer. Daft Punk offering the grimiest sounds they’ve put to tape in over 15 years. It’s the youth, though, that made the weightiest contributions. The trio of Arca, Evian Christ, and Hudson Mohawke loom large over Yeezus, and it’s no wonder why Kanye wanted them on board. Each of them works in a style that’s steeped in American hip-hop but not limited by it, folding in experimental tendencies or influences from other musical cultures.
Arca is the loosest and most inventive of the three, and, at this point, the most exciting. While HudMo seems content to rehash old ideas (listen to Satin Panthers, then the TNGHT EP, then “Blood on the Leaves” and tell me I’m wrong) and the bulk of Evian Christ’s work to date has been characterized by a sort of rigid formalism, Arca continues to push his sound forward with each release. He put out three EPs in 2012, and has shown impressive project-to-project growth.
Listening to &&&&&, released on Soundcloud in mid-July as a single track, feels like riding through a haunted house on rails. It’s mischievous and unpredictable, both funny and spooky, cartoonish and menacing.
Sampled rap vocals have always been a part of Arca’s sound, and that’s still true on &&&&&. His use thereof has become more sophisticated, though. Most of the time they’re blasted into abstraction, scarcely recognizable alongside his own thoroughly warped vocals. Even when the sources are obvious – Snoop’s “na na na na na” from “The Next Episode,” for instance – they’re incidental to the track rather than the key to it. In Arca’s earlier work the vocal samples were sometimes the engines that drove the tracks. Here, they’re used as accents, even red herrings. Like a stray word of English in a paragraph of Mandarin, they offer a hint of familiarity, but little more.
Arca’s productions are kaleidoscopes, constantly crumbling and reforming. It’s tough to get your footing, and that’s the idea. He’ll take you from a placid tune built on sonar chirps and distant, sonorous, rhythmless drums into a punchdrunk, dirgey piano number without warning. He’ll layer twisted vocals over serrated, irregular beats before cutting into something subtle and delicate – the closing tune, “Obelisk,” recalls Aphex Twin’s “Film.” Arca covers a ton of ground in 25 minutes – a little too much, even. &&&&& showcases his tremendous range, but moves so quickly that you’d like him to settle a little deeper into some of these ideas before moving on. Perhaps we’ll see him dig in further on his debut full-length, due out before year’s end on Hippos in Tanks.