The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Arca – ‘Mutant’ (Mute)

Front cover of 'Mutant'

Front cover of ‘Mutant’

by Ed Biggs

Venezuelan-born production wizkid Alejandro Ghersi dropped Xen, his much-hyped studio album as Arca, at almost exactly this point last year, and it was obvious immediately why the likes of Kanye West, Björk and FKA twigs had approached him to harness the fluid, futuristic post-R&B sound that has become his trademark. Here was somebody painting a startling, imaginative way forward for electronic music at a prodigiously young age, able to work with others and make intelligent, challenging music without alienating people. Left to his own devices and free from the demands of collaboration, Ghersi has opted to travel even further down the rabbit hole on second album Mutant – indeed, it often seems to exist outside of the continuum of pop altogether, sounding quite unlike anything else out there.

In this hour-length suite of 20 tracks, the short, sub-minute interludes are just important as the longer set-pieces. Shivering, shuddering soundscapes of bass wobbles, electronic pulses and post-dubstep sound effects characterise the record. The seven-and-a-half-minute title track compacts down the essence of Mutant to a solitary experience, where chaos and order, violence and beauty, clarity and confusion exist together, with the unresolved tension providing the mechanism for the listener to understand Ghersi’s creative vision. The twinkling promo single ‘Vanity’ segues into the bass heaves of ‘Sinner’, the jarring, slashed chords of ‘Sever’ and the schizophrenic stylistic shifts of ‘Umbilical’.

Strangely, the further you get into the record, the more it disorientates and you forget the music actually arrived at this point, the more Mutant makes sense as an experience. While it is abstract, it is held together by Ghersi and his desire to confusing, yet human music, in way that reminds one of Aphex Twin at peak creativity. ‘Soichiro’ sounds absolutely cavernous, but creates this sensation while using very little actual instrumentation, while the sinister yet becalming atmosphere on ‘Gratitud’, conveyed by subtle major-minor shifts. The percussion is created electronically, with manipulated, scuffed hi-hat sounds occasionally venturing into the mix to make the experience earthbound and not totally other-worldly. Nothing on Mutant should make sense; but, somehow, it does.

That something so accomplished should emerge just 12 months after such a remarkable debut is impressive enough – that it should distinguish itself so thoroughly from the first. Where Xen often felt like a mixtape, Mutant is a full-on conceptual blowout, and one that demands to be listened to as a whole. Rarely has such resolutely alien, electronic music sounded so unmistakably human, and at its very best moments, Mutant tells us that we’re in the presence of true greatness. (8/10)

Listen to Mutant here, and tell us what you think below!

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