New York label UNO NYC continues to promote its roster as a present vision of the future. The aesthetic has been labeled “post-internet,” “hyper-future,” and “night bus music,” not in an attempt to peddle trend-driven hype surrounding the artists who have released there, but to construct an umbrella mood for every release — this is what it’s going to feel like when you press play. Each term is a descriptor, alluding to a particular method for arranging bass, synth, and tone to create a feeling of progression, of achieving a sound that wasn’t possible in the past — not because the technology was unavailable, but because of shifting affiliations with corresponding industries. The music feeds into the lives of its listeners as social habits alter; they play into sound association, emphasize grit in development, speed, flexibility, portability, and a particular connection with urban expansion. Arca has played a large role in shaping that sonic environment by providing the integral spokes that held the UNO mood umbrella aloof, while this is his first outing for Hippos In Tanks. But that didn’t just come from dousing tropical synths with echo, distorting hip-hop vocals, and raising the bar in digital cover art; there was something far more assertive about this beat maker that shifted listener expectations entirely.
With each of his releases, Arca refines a sound that appeals to emotive instincts while bypassing inherently human components. This isn’t uncommon in experimental electronic music, but on &&&&&, the Venezuelan-born musician pulls his specific technique off with a kilter that’s incredibly distinct and even at odds with previous recordings. Categorization in this case goes little beyond the creative capacity of writers attempting to describe what they hear in searching for patterns. When established genre labels are adopted, the illusion of exposing music of the future is whittled away, and that makes relating to each sound in terms of what the listener feels so much simpler. Feeling lies at the very core of the artist’s latest mixtape; across the entirety of its 26 minutes, &&&&& has the potential to conjure an emotional frenzy that’s alluring to the senses in a way that so much electronic artistry fails to even approach.
Alejandro Ghersi, the man behind Arca, sparks a deeply emotional response through decoded combinations of electronic sound. Technically, it brings to mind Brian Eno’s work with Microsoft in the early 90s, only instead of creating a six-second corporate jingle designed to be “optimistic, sentimental and inspirational” etc., Arca spins an impassioned tapestry through a series of personalities that weave and scratch their way through the mix. The trick is being able to achieve this both with and without vocals, and by producing a combination of frequencies that push any desired futuristic mood to the outermost limits. Ghersi seems to accomplish this effortlessly; he was, after all, chosen to co-produce four tracks on Yeezus, not to mention his gig alongside Holly Herndon in support of Atoms For Peace — such opportunities came on the back of just two EPs and a mixtape for DIS, without even the slightest hint of a full-length album in the pipeline.
Although it exists as a single stream, &&&&& comprises 14 tacks that punch and crush their way through free-falling bass, Transylvanian keys, and metallic bullet-shell samples. Like a multifaceted 3D simulation of the double helix, “Knot” opens with gaping tones that launch into spiraling, crisp cut synths — it feels motivational, a sonic vessel for accomplishing even the most daunting of challenges, mirrored by the severity of a shuddering bass line. It’s an essential section in the opening half of the mix, which continues to embody futuristic dub qualities in the context of an intergalactic hip-hop beat tape. Arca’s stylistic preferences bring nothing new to the table, but the manner in which they have been approached gives them that feeling of whatever a term like “post-internet” might imply. Ghersi has spoken before about compiling cracked Sony drum samples to fashion his angle — found sound in the digital online junkyard — and his means of subverting traditional narratives such as a uniform Western romance go way back. But these methods remain etched into how he tackles dub flecked compositions with an abundant fascination for hip-hop aesthetics. As a standout fragment, “Anaesthetic” takes the tape into Stretch territory, with a rubberized synth that twists and creases its multiple vox loops. That first half compiles an incredibly hard hitting and wonderfully rich 12 minutes of Arca’s most captivating music to date, before the work is seized upon by an unexpected but equally gripping interjection.
At around the 12-minute mark on Arca’s SoundCloud version, listener comments appear to be further apart from one another. If this were a standardized indicator, it would demonstrate a great deal more appreciation for the bass-laden, hip-hop-heavy first side, which is severed by a beautiful piano key sequence entitled “Mother.” It’s a crazed cluttering of keys that segregates the mix into two distinct halves, the second of which is comparably enthralling but exemplifies an ambient palette. It kicks off with “Hallucinogen,” a downtempo beat parade of broken glass and cloudy synths; it’s a shift away from the emotive electronics, yet it subtly alters the pace of the release, which builds up steadily into a peak through the breathy tirade of “Pinch” and into the gigantic pulse of “DM True.” The latter track hints at the inclusion of Arca’s own mutant vocals; they don’t dominate &&&&& in the same way they have done in the past, but they do fall back on the vocabulary of physical action so that movement retains its presence as a presiding theme.
Like the wonderful Stretch 2 EP that came before it, &&&&& ends with an engaging instrumental piece that once again reaches back to ambient planes with a flickering heartbeat that carries the weight of blissful keys and glitches. The track relies heavily on repetition before fading away into the distance, so when it’s played as a prequel to “Knot,” it works perfectly as a looping sequence, with six seconds of silence dividing the gentler shades and the thundering bass drop. Only time will tell as to whether or not the angle will wear thin, but the complexity of these sounds and their ability to harness that emotional connection are what make this mix so strong. Despite the versatility of the music that’s on here, &&&&& remains compelling throughout its genre-spanning course. This might not be the sound of the future, but it’s an incredibly composed and cleverly mastered example of what can be achieved right now, and what could possibly be more uplifting than that?