Arca, the self-titled third album from Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi, is the prolific artist’s most extraordinary work by far. In past works, such as 2014’s Xen and 2015’s Mutant, Arca’s music and visuals defied easy categorization. Mutant‘s lengthy compositions consist of crystalline beats and morphing rhythms that threaten to slip from beneath your feet. On that record, Ghersi was just out of reach; rhythms melt and reform in new shapes once they become familiar. The elusiveness of his music combined with collaborator Jesse Kanda’s grotesque visual art made Ghersi one of the decade’s most intriguing producers.
Ghersi introduces his remarkable singing voice on Arca, opening up his world to listeners. Untreated and pristine, Ghersi sings on eight of the album’s 13 tracks, folding elements of human fragility into alien compositions. Intimate and revealing, Arca‘s songs refract the familiar through the producer’s own distorted vision.
The album’s first song, “Piel,” begins with Ghersi humming without accompaniment. His rich falsetto sounds ethereal as he intones in his native Spanish: “Quítame la piel de ayer/ No sabes más de distancia” (“Take off the skin from yesterday/ You do not understand distance”). Ghersi’s words quiver for a moment over droning bass, then slowly slip away into darkness. His delicate voice is eerie against the crushing bass, sounding more like an omen than an ode to lost love.
On the heartbreaking ballad “Sin Rumbo,” Ghersi strips the arrangement until hardly anything remains. Over wispy electronics, bursts of stuttering noise and ghostly strings, Ghersi cries out for lost love: “Girando en torno al sol/ Te pierdo otra vez más/ No hubo advertencia esta vez/ Y qué dolor” (“Revolving around the sun/ I lose you once again/ There was no warning this time/ and such pain”).
But Arca dwells on more than just heartbreak. Pain and pleasure fill these songs as well, contrasting violence with queer sensuality. Ghersi wrote in a press release that the album was inspired by visits to the Victorian burial ground Abney Park.
“It’s one of London’s largest cemeteries, and a famous spot for cruising,” he said. “There were all these gargoyles, and all this sexual tension. They became part of the material of the album: it just felt right to be around the dead, and gay men cruising around the dead.”
This is apparent in the instrumental “Whip,” a brief and turbulent track composed of cracking whips and rattling bass. But the contrast is best highlighted in the video for the sauntering “Reverie.” Dressed in wooden stilts, fishnet stockings and a matador’s jacket, Ghersi prances about under dim lights. After a bull’s horn impales him, Ghersi smears blood across his skin and falls to the ground in a shower of petals. It’s an arresting dichotomy of sexual force and gentle beauty.
With Arca, Ghersi sought to produce a character that “goes uncomfortably deep into self-mutilation.” Fragile and raw, Arca is a remarkable new direction for the once amorphous producer. He’s letting us into his world more than ever before, but his vision remains just as enchanting.