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Arca Review

by Heather Phares

Self-titled albums often mean an artist is making a definitive statement, and Arca is a prime example: Alejandra Ghersi's third album as Arca is by far her most revealing, putting her voice, and the beauty of her music, at the forefront in a new and often-stunning way. Considering how often electronic producers rely on others to provide vocals for their music, it's remarkable that Ghersi not only sings, but sings so well. On "Anoche," her voice is equally powerful and delicate, sweeping across its full range on what sounds like a traditional Venezuelan folk song given a radical electronic arrangement; its juxtaposition of soaring vocals and crunching beats rivals Ghersi's collaborator Björk at her most affecting. On the stripped-down "Sin Rumbo," which first appeared on the mixtape Entranas, she swings from an impressive falsetto to richer tones that recall Anohni. Elsewhere, Ghersi reaches back to her synth pop project Nuuro, filtering it through Arca's experimental lens on highlights such as "Desafio" and "Reverie," both of which sound like excerpts from a futuristic opera. To make room for her voice, she trades some of her music's mechanical precision and noise for a more open approach. Many of her previous releases were claustrophobically packed with ideas, but this time, Arca explores the drama of wide-open spaces. She lets the elements of her music flow and crash into each other on tracks like "Castration," where metallic synths duke it out with a haunting piano melody. Later, she returns to the physical quality of her earlier work: "Saunter"'s strut lives up to its name, but the welling sadness in its wobbling synths hints that it could stumble at any moment. And lest anyone think Ghersi has gotten too soft, "Whip" pairs a wildly ricocheting rhythm with lumbering drones. More often than not, though, Arca's songs are joined -- if not exactly grounded -- by their emotional impact. The melodic melancholy that bubbled under on Xen swells to the surface on the gently beckoning "Fugaces," and "Coraje," which blankets Ghersi's vocals in luminous electronics. However, the ominous undercurrent of Arca's work remains. Few things are as terrifying as revealing one's self completely, and Ghersi telegraphs this with "Piel"'s fearsome synths and the dark, lumbering finale, "Child," which plays like the summation -- and roots -- of the album's turbulent emotions. As always, Ghersi pushes her boundaries on Arca, and the vulnerability she displays is as exciting as it is moving.

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