Arca - &&&&& Music Album Reviews

Arca - &&&&& Music Album Reviews
A new reissue of Arca’s 25-minute mixtape from 2013 highlights its prophetic, trailblazing qualities. It remains an unfathomably skillful and multi-layered piece of music.

It sounds strange to say it now, but when Arca’s &&&&& dropped out of the blue in the summer of 2013, it felt like we’d finally arrived in the future. The 25-minute mixtape sounded like a celebration of speed, of the infinity of musical information that the internet puts at our fingertips, of the wild emotional contrasts of a night spent staring down the barrel of one’s feed. And to top it all off, it played like one continuous track.
Though the Venezuelan producer’s source materials (grime, trap, glitch, dub) derived largely from club culture, &&&&& seemed to take a mischievous pleasure in disrupting the metric grid that dance music was built on—reveling in a sonic rubberiness that her previous two EPs, Stretch 1 and Stretch 2, had hinted at in name. Even the image that accompanied it—a bird-like creature with distended legs and translucent skin, courtesy of artist Jesse Kanda—seemed to suggest the birth of something new, quivering inside an amniotic sack of digital slime.

In truth, &&&&& was probably less the dawn of a novel genre of electronic music than the crystallization of a perspectival shift that had already been in the works for some time—and not just in the foggy rooms of GHE20G0TH1K, the joyfully irreverent LGBTQ and POC-focused dance party where Arca interned as a college student at NYU, though it probably started there. Where the cool kids of the late ’00s had met the rising tide of technology with a retreat to the obsolete sounds and formats of the past (think: the vinyl collector culture driving the global techno scene, the cassette tape fetish of the chillwave generation), a new generation of producers and DJs at the turn of the ’10s—armed with CDJs and sample packs and vape pens—seemed to see a new revolutionary potential.

It wasn’t just that the tools of electronic music production were becoming more widely accessible, or that the internet seemed to be having a democratizing effect on music, catapulting unknown artists to overnight fame; it felt like the old distinctions between high and low, underground and mainstream, club culture and pop culture, were finally on the verge of collapsing once and for all—and rattling the foundations of the culture industry in the process.

Arca had given only one formal interview to date, but what we did know about her seemed to situate her in the cultural crosshairs of that moment: Hood By Air, the avant-garde fashion brand co-founded by GHE20G0TH1K’s Shayne Oliver—and for which Arca would compose the occasional runway soundtrack—was galvanizing the worlds of streetwear and couture with its vision of a gender-fluid, multicultural future. Auteurist experimentalists like Mykki Blanco and FKA twigs, who’d also tapped Arca for her lurching, ballooning sound design, seemed poised to become crossover stars. Just a month before she unveiled &&&&& to the world, Kanye West had dropped the era-defining Yeezus, an album with enough crunchy synth strobes, expressively deformed samples, and blood-curdling screams to sound right at home at a semi-legal warehouse party at peak time. In what critics roundly heralded, somewhat paradoxically, as a sign that underground music had finally entered the big leagues, he’d enlisted Arca’s own services for the production, alongside fellow eclectic beatmakers like Evian Christ and Hudson Mohawke.

Even with so much in flux, it is hard to overstate how novel &&&&& felt when she uploaded it to SoundCloud. Though it was technically “released” by the label Hippos in Tanks, a home for brain-bending sounds that seemed to emblematize this “Wild West” moment in music, it didn’t actually seem to be for sale anywhere; and though Arca was billing it as a digital “mixtape,” a format that derived from hip-hop but that was becoming increasingly popular as a promotional vehicle in SoundCloud producer circles, it didn’t exactly seem to be teasing a more finished work to come (though Arca did self-release a small vinyl run of &&&&& in 2014). Unfolding as one long musical utterance—by turns hyper-caffeinated and mournful, brutal and full of open-eyed wonder—&&&&& was a complete work unto itself, an unfathomably skillful and multi-layered piece of music that is perhaps only possible to describe as the sum of its own contradictions.

Here was music that was at once decidedly challenging and overflowing with hooks. And it was so aggressively synthetic, so plastic in its conception of sound and rhythm, that it somehow evoked the unchained emotionalism of the romantic composers she played as a young piano student (Schumann and Mendelssohn) more than it did actual dance music. Mostly, it felt like the first clear articulation of a feeling that was already in the air, and that arguably continues to drive the musical conversation to this day: In the post-internet world, music didn’t have to be one thing or another. It could be abrasive & melodic & synthetic & organic & prickly & sweet and frankly, whatever felt right in the moment.

At least, that’s one possible explanation for mixtape’s enigmatic title—even though &&&&& always sounded too free-associative to feel like the mere illustration of a concept. Listening to it now, on the occasion of a new reissue and remaster from Berlin record label PAN—one that, for the first time, will make the record available on streaming services in the form of individual tracks—it’s the record’s rolling tides of feeling, its combined technical dexterity and emotional specificity, that stands out. Whether she’s splicing a pitched vocal sample into the aural equivalent of a strut, flooding the room in a cold ocean of synthetic voices, or dropping down the energy with a distended, melodic sigh, this symbiosis of woman and machine feels life-affirming.

Seen from the vantage of 2020, of course, &&&&& feels like it was heralding a bright new future that never came to be; it’s hard to remain optimistic about technology when our politics are descending into Twitter-addled madness and the platforms we might have expected to sustain our creative economies in a time of crisis seem incapable of compensating our artists more than a fraction of a penny per stream. 

Over the past seven years, Arca has continued to drill down into the complexities of power, gender, and the economics of the music industry itself, using each successive project to reveal another side of her person, to question why we do things the way we do, to reach out to her people through the pixelated ether. But there’s something a bit melancholy about listening to &&&&& now—the feeling that instead of freeing us from the past, technology has left us stuck in a loop, endlessly refreshing in search of a better world that never arrives, but that we can still dream of in our art. And while &&&&&’s genre-splicing, additive approach to sound arguably continues to set the blueprint for much of youth music today—from the post-club artists and collectives across the world pushing sound into mutant new shapes, to stadium pop—it’s hard to say whether there has been any giant, qualitative leap forward in music ever since.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Arca - &&&&& Music Album Reviews Arca - &&&&& Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, September 28, 2020 Rating:

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