Arca Sheep (Hood By Air FW15)

[Self-Released; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: grime collage, tarraxinha
Others: Pinch & Mumdance, Gobby, Lotic

In 2014, we decided that “Albums of the Year” wasn’t cutting it anymore. As a reflection of the way we think about music — as something we are constantly doing or engaging with (effortlessly rating, reposting, sharing, favoriting, editing as a ringtone, remixing without permission, etc.) — it didn’t feel right to categorize our favorite music based on how they were made public. “Music Releases” felt a lot more appropriate, and while some sites understandably took to compiling year-end sub-lists for mixes, mixtapes, tapes, and EPs, we threw everything together to represent our collective experience that valued sonic appreciation over specific formats.

In addition to numerous, high-profile production credits, Arca is perhaps best known around these parts for dropping his spectacular debut album, Xen, after a batch of EPs and an incredibly infectious SoundCloud stream. Alejandro Ghersi — the man behind the moniker — has built his reputation on straying from whatever any traditional format might constitute. The fact that he splices each mix into sections — or rather, stages with titles — gives them more credos than a single or an extended track. For instance, on Sheep, “Umbilical,” “Drowning,” and “Sifter” (originally “Faggot”) embody a range of conflicting approaches (in terms of tempo, style, pace, and mood) but come together as a unified body. It feels important to emphasize this, particularly when laying down a review for 17 minutes of music, because it mirrors our response to the work as an entity, a collection of sounds, compositions, and ideas bound closely in unison, often overlapping, copulating with one another within the confines of a free SoundCloud stream.

The mix splendidly downplays the melodic nuances that worked so well on Xen; those interjecting high tones and bass-heavy counterpoints bleed into each other here to provide an unwavering soundscape. It’s like a scrapbook of equally lavish and boisterous ideas that leap out of the page; though not fully formed, they make up a remarkable whole. These ideas bridge each “stage” in a fashion so dissimilar to the clearly defined &&&&& or anything at all from the Stretch EPs, forcing Arca’s aesthetic to sound more debauched than ever. Sheep works as a platform (or even a catwalk), then, for Arca to celebrate his most off-kilter preferences.

But this insatiable lust for testing the boundaries of his own tastes is not limited to sound. After working with his soul mate Jesse Kanda to create some elegant, yet discomforting visuals that led to the birth of his androgynous Xen persona, it seemed even more peculiar that Sheep soundtracked a Hood By Air fashion show for Pitti Uomo 87 in Florence, Italy. Xen embodies all of the physical dimensions that are interpreted within this mix (see the forceful dirge of “Don’t / Else” or the melancholic echo of Robert Wyatt’s voice on “At Last I Am Free”); it is an atypical, often grotesque character that blurred our understanding of elegance and tragedy in ways that went far beyond the scope of a typical fashion show.

Maybe that connection is superficial, but these notions of contrast help to make sense of the choir that closes the mix or the bleating sheep in the opening minutes. The mix even makes postulating Ghersi’s compositional process a wonderfully intriguing enterprise: just how is his mind working when he weaves such swift and berserk rhythms in and out of each other, merging the ugly and the beautiful, the mechanical and the organic? It pulls on the typicality of human capriciousness, while the human voice itself becomes a source of sound for manipulation. Eroded of any harmonic components, the voice here is cajoled into the twisted throttle of these fascinating ideas — just another ingredient in Arca’s ever-mutating scrapbook of sound.

Links: Arca - Self-Released

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