An abstract hentai seiyoku offshoot called shokushu goukan once began to sketch beasts in the place of men during domineering and often forceful sex scenes in Japanese animation. This unpredictable and often rather shocking artform ranged from 19th-century paintings of women copulating with octopuses to the 1986 breakthrough film Urotsukidōji, which saw the anime sub-genre gain popularity in the West. Monsters, mutants, and ogres, with their lashing, drooling, and hyper-violence, preyed upon petite college teens in savage displays that have been revisited in various forms through album art on more than one musical release this year, ranging from suicidal schoolgirls by Makoto Aida to anonymous low-def ultra-filth shokushu. These themes curdle wild cocktails of innocence, purity, and metaphysical desire with abstraction, abomination, and cruelty, as potentially enraging as entertaining.
Although Arca chooses not to adhere to these themes on the rather kinetic cover art of his outstanding Stretch releases, both records embody crystal-clear, seductive beats that are elasticated, shrink-wrapped, then curated to the point of abuse by transmuting vocals. These voices irrefutably dominate the bulk of each release, taking on audio forms of monsters and mutants who prey upon otherwise pristine rhythms skillfully commanded with nonchalant and shameless ease. This might come as a surprise if the artist were a stranger to flamboyant juxtapositions of the innocent or untarnished with the gruesome or even the sexual. However, the terrifying video for “Ass Swung Low,” taken from the prequel to Stretch 2, arranges video footage of children with morphed and synced gapes dropping alien rhymes that stretch from “I feel sick/ I fucked you/ Fuck you” to “Share my blood with somebody new/ Take the rest off, fuckin’ you” — lyrics that embrace not only lewd expletives, but also collocate adult matter with seeming innocence to collectively frightening, humorous, and sickening heights.
This notion, of a beastly form abusing an innocent victim, remains pertinent throughout the course of Stretch 2, the first UNO NYC release from this clandestine Venezuelan producer, and it results in a remarkable listen that’s constantly negotiating what constitutes fun and fear. This is what makes Arca both seductively dark and wonderfully playful; he is capable of producing delectable beats of the most sublime proclivity, encouraging the listener to engulf his dainty panache before pulling the music to pieces and deforming it with alien vocals. The affect is restraining but delightful, from the album’s first single and opening track “Self Defense” to the smoked-out, lubed-up mischief of “2 Blunted.” These are risky and obscure formulas being diced here, but a firm balance is struck across lines where displeasure is offset by entertainment, where it might be perceived in alternative spaces as de mauvais goût and consequently kicked to the proverbial curb.
Despite the virtually unabated presence of otherworldly figures, their eeriness and obscurity are most welcome; these perplexing impostors have a knack for embedding themselves neatly in the musical folds that they so fondly govern. Indeed, it is only towards the tail-end of the record when these demonic characters give way to the flawless beats that are forged throughout, which on closing track “Manners” blends soft vocal harmonies with delicate synths and gently-plucked kora strings that interrupt one singular sample, a young lady, cut in mid-sentence, “our band’s in this video too, though,” which, despite its purity in pitch and tone, rekindles terrifying images from the “Ass Swung Low” video. In spite of that, what the track alludes to is the incredibly adroit and imaginative compositions that piece the album together: “Manners” is bereft of the freakishly agreeable vocal bullying, which provides the confrontational inertia that keeps Arca so precariously nestled between the wretched and the immaculate, shedding light on the realization that, unlike shokushu, Stretch 2 is not entirely dominated by the depraved.