Arca – Xen

written by: November 4, 2014
Album-art-for-Xen-by-Arca Release Date: November 4, 2014


Arca, or Alejandro Ghersi, has made it clear he is separate from everyone else with a veiled media presence and star-studded project list (Bjork, Kanye West, FKA Twigs). He is arguably the most-desired and skilled producer today, kicking off something that’s finally new. Devoted to Ghersi’s gender-neutral alter-ego, Xen is a maze of digital sound capabilities—an exploration of electronic music breaking down in the natural world and adapting to find its own beautiful place in nature.

Xen, Arca’s formal debut album, could soundtrack the coolest horror movie ever. From strings that painfully mimic nails on chalkboard, to ruptured and screeching patterns, and just a few melody-centric tracks, the album is built on an intentionally shaky foundation, darting and gliding frantically like a school of fish, without ever losing its elegance.

Arca doesn’t break the rules—he simply doesn’t see them.

The flow of Xen is very hurry-up-and-wait with its revolution of sporadic, racing industrial tracks followed by sensuous steel reggaeton, only to pick back up with somber strings and ambient vocal samples. Arca has crafted an album for thinkers to get lost in over and over.

Opening track “Now You Know” casts a haunting daze in its first few moments of launching and buoyant sounds. The track then builds up with soaring, engine-like noises and unexpected, yet sustained introductions of more experimental production.

The derailed intro to Xen subsides and collects with a crawling, echo-filled track as Arca moves to the piano for a short stint of a song, “Held Apart.” But an urgent ambulatory sound quickly moves in for “Xen,”  and the title track paces and falls with a primitive nature.

Xen serves as musical representation of the digital world at its best. Arca’s music evokes a feeling of flipping through a catalog of auditory and visual memories. His primal, tangled temperament offers the dimensionality to suggest his music as part of a new direction of digital music that’s more intellectual than ever before; it reaches out to other senses, particularly vision.

“Sisters” begins with the layered crashing of what sounds like tin pans floating in water. The track takes a sensuous turn, scooping up the cryptic eroticism that’s been peeking through the album all along. Themes of bold sexuality may explain the puzzle-like feel of the album, paralleling spontaneous sexual experiences. Dizzy glitches bounce through the steady melody at the pace of a bobble-head. It’s easy to picture the digitally-rendered depiction of Arca’s alter-ego Xen grinding along to the track. The Xen character is seen in the music video to “Thievery” by visual artist (and Ghersi’s roommate) Jesse Kanda, where Xen’s silky, metallic, almost reptilian body moves with elasticity and unnatural vibrations.

“Thievery,” the album’s sort-of-single, stands on a reggaeton beat and is the most melodious track of the album. The song may even work with a crowd, despite the unspoken producer rule of “no Arca at the club.” “Promise” then closes the album with robotic sounds similar to popping popcorn. Plucking noises ensue as harsh, shrill bass powerfully and abruptly ends Xen.

Despite the obvious mechanical, digital construction of this album, Arca blesses listeners with an elemental feel. Xen exploits digital music’s important relationship with nature, testing how the two break one another down and reconstruct in curious ways.

Arca – Xen tracklist:

  1. “Now You Know”
  2. “Held Apart”
  3. “Xen”
  4. “Sad Bitch”
  5. “Sisters”
  6. “Slit Thru”
  7. “Failed”
  8. “Family Violence”
  9. “Thievery”
  10. “Lonely Thugg”
  11. “Fish”
  12. “Wound”
  13. “Bullet Chained”
  14. “Tongue”
  15. “Promise”