Arca is a genuine talent with a commendable production history, but his step out of the shadows feels half-hearted.
It’s always the risk for producers, producing a full-length solo album. No matter what genre(s) you produce for, or amount of artists you attract to then back you for solo success, doing an LP on your own terms, with your own decisions, is tough going. How do you discover your own distinctive sound when you’ve spent the last months/years cultivating others?
You can of course, take inspiration from your work with the others. An example of this working well would be 2016’s 99.9% album from Canadian producer and all round good egg KAYTRANADA, that while coming together like a collection of singles with a vast array of features, had the overall result of a meshed together, upbeat and structured piece of work.
With Venezuelan born Arca, however, it is not that the structure is lacking on his self-titled third studio album. It is more that the structure plays such a key role that for at least three quarters of Arca we are not allowed any further than skin deep into what could have been a really distinctive album in terms of sound.
The moodiness and brutality symbolised in part by the unsettling album cover is something that comes across throughout the entire LP, particularly in songs such as Saunter and Reverie. However, it is only really in these two songs that we get to see the darkness and melancholy that was surely the ambition of this album to portray really flesh itself out.
Far too often songs start with attention-grabbing drums, impossibly rich basslines, and vocals that feel like they’re wrapping you in barbed wire yet comforting you at the same time, and then, well, nothing. You get the feel for something to take over what you’ve heard in the first 30 seconds of the song, and then you get two minutes or so of at best complete stasis in terms of quality, and at worst quite sharp decline.
None of these particular moments are more disappointing than on Anoche, a song that could be so much more than its eventual collapse into mediocracy. You practically beg for the song to stumble across the line, so lacking is it in ideas.
Given the list of previous works on Arca’s CV, you wonder how working with artists such as Bjork and Kanye West (on the controversial but undeniably exciting Yeezus no less), it only adds to the frustration that this album plays like a collection of ghostly, haunting standalone beats that would be better served shortened, sampled and placed on other artists such as Kanye’s and FKA Twigs (another long-time collaborator) work.
There is scope for improvement here. Arca is clearly an exceptionally talented producer, that’s in no doubt. The production on the album itself is sublime in its intention to make something more melodic and approachable than we’ve heard on his previous album Mutant, which was altogether louder, beastlier, and hair-raising, but more scattergun and fractured at that very same cost.
It seems evident that the desire from Arca was to make more of an actual album than his previous work, and in that regard he hasn’t failed, the disappointment from me stems from the fact that that desire for consistency and digestibility, we’ve lost at least some of the sparkle that made A-list musicians want to use his talents in the first place.