Music Reviews

Arca &&&&&

(Hippos In Tanks) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

What makes this Arca album so good, its density, its intensity, its I'm-lost-in-a-big-city feel, its warm gust of beats blowing while the subway comes squeaking into the station, its darkness, its late-night ecstasy, its rawness, its rawness like raw milk, like drinking raw milk or eating sushi in an inexpensive restaurant somewhere on a street with trash and tweakers, its little motifs that twinkle like stars or Christmas lights, its muscular compactness. &&&&& is a postcard from a garbage heap, a passport to a video game world, to a roof high above, where several hundred feet below the whole world zooms within the mirror, closer than it appears, always closer than it appears. Sound is found, found sound is sound, sound that's found isn't found anymore. The musicality of garbage never smelled so good.

Beats, drenched and heavy, moored with hawsers, plunged into the neo-New York harbors with several anchors, deep in the social sea, miles away from coral, sharks and remoras, schools of fish, and islands with bird sanctuaries on them. Futurism is as easy as a refresh button. A fast sequence of volcanic snare-drum blasts follows a slow sequence of motorized alien talk, soaked in an oily substance. Flipped beats, blipped feats. This is a sequence of hip-hop instrumentals composed of the chemicals on the Periodic Table of Elements. This is a sequence of hip-hop instrumentals from a Venezuelan-born producer that says goodbye to the cracked sidewalk, to the walk sign, to the red, amber, and green lights. Equal parts Chicago as it is London and New York, this is a sequence of hip-hop instrumentals composed in the syntax of urbanity, of African-American phantasms lurking in every measure, of physical exercises in dubstep. This is post-New York dubstep-footwork without a dasein, transplanted onto the pulse of hypercapitalism, of the lullaby a set of different-sized TVs creates when you stare up at them in an electronic store - all tuned to the same channel - without consciousness or a plan. This is about simulacra and disappearance and the way that flesh stays fleshy, even on a robot. Communication breakdowns abound. Static rustles. Rust speaks in verses. And what was once celebratory about beats - a craft of warmth, a craft of establishing a relationship within a community - has dissipated. This is probably why Arca, though he released this on Hippos and Tanks, also put the whole thing on his SoundCloud, as a free download. Once again, this is yet another album put on the data cloud; the once-upon-a-time relationship of music making you money is disappearing. Even if he's producing for Kanye West or Mykki Blanco, Arca still vibes on obscurity.

The heart beats differently during different situations. On the streets, in the supermarkets and on the bus, voices talk, forgetting the heart. Voices of humans. Anonymous and forever replaceable in the big city, we are alive with information but not with communication. Elsewhere, simulation occurs. Turning a corner in a first-person shooter with a loaded pistol as you grasp the controller, walking into a room full of aliens, tending a field of crops, shooting a flying goose with a fake rifle: all of these experiences of games gives Arca's sonic world a theoretical pairing with game theory's insistence that decision-making and complexity, a product of urban life, is increasing, and with it, consciousness as we know it. &&&&& is a game, a musical computer game with its main theme about how the daily duet of daydreaming and waking life produces a frightening desire for invisibility: this is why the nightclub - with its darkness, fog machines and - calls forth as the home of this music, but I don't think it's nightclub music. This isn't music for your body, it's music for your simulated body. For the inside of your iPhone. For tangled cables, dirty dishes, shadows shading fake indoor plants and foreign language dictionaries. Arca creates a warmth out of alienation, and, like Borges, praises darkness, and collaborates with anxiety, hyperaccelaration, and the lightning-fast speed of information. &&&&& is a study on hypermedia, on a world dominated by media, on how media can comment on other media, empowering them, critiquing them, or just giving them an identity.

On the cover of the album is a weird, bug-like creature, complete with what appears to be a thorax, mouth parts, and an abdomen, and on Arca's website this creature, walking on its two bony legs on a black background in a GIF, flashes white and purple and almost contorts - like a gelatinous blob or a half-full balloon - into a skull before assuming its natural shape. Why a grotesque, skinny-leggéd, flesh-coloured organism with a short sucker and no eyelids? Why five ampersands, marching one after the other in single file - five black ants, five black spit stains, five black symbols of unity, of a connection, of a clause joining another clause, of an idea following another idea? The title suggests something's about to come, someone's about to speak, a word's on someone's tongue - but what is it, what is it, what is it? At the end of &&&&&, after the claustrophobic graffiti of synthesizer presets and the basketball choruses of celebration, a piano aloft on a magic carpet dreamily escapes the tight corners, metal corridors, and concrete mazes of urban consciousness and floats away on a slowly fading beat. Like everyone else, our nights end in exhaustion, heavy eyelids, a cup of tea, and a final moment of relaxation before silence. Or so it seems. Although Arca ends this collection of sounds on a major-scale note, complete with a beautiful fade-out, the feeling after listening to it is that of narrowly escaping danger. The confidence and swagger of his beats had to end sometime. This ending suits it: a pretty, drug-induced reverie after a messy surgery. But a messy surgery, predominately. And a drug-induced reverie, completely. And the word that we wanted to hear, that was on someone's tongue - &&&&& leaves us searching for that word in repeated listens, carefully, carefully searching.