Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) proves his mastery of flux once again on Xen, an album where every aspect of his music is in glorious limbo. Unfettered by vocalists -- Kanye West and FKA Twigs are some of his highest-profile collaborators -- the producer takes his tracks in wild but uniquely balanced directions. Borrowing equally from classical and hip-hop inspirations, his impressionistic sounds flow, stutter, bounce off of, and crash into each other in ways that unite and elevate each element, whether on "Now You Know"'s stark recombinations of strings, flute, and percussion or the dense, rumbling "Promise." Xen's intricate miniatures recall Arca's mixtape &&&&&, but where that work unfolded like a 25-minute sound painting (and was even performed as an audiovisual piece at New York's Museum of Modern Art with collaborator Jesse Kanda), these tracks are more discrete. "Xen" itself is a satisfying microcosm of the entire album, packed full of sounds in a way that's challenging but never jumbled. Occasionally, Ghersi allows a beat to proceed more or less undisturbed: "Sisters," which pairs metallic tones with a drumbeat mutated from Prince's "When the Doves Cry," approaches alien pop; "Thievery"'s massive rhythm section nods to Arca's more club-friendly work but retains the uncanny feel of the album's more abstract moments. More often, though, he reconfigures sounds on an almost molecular level. He minces hip-hop into an ebbing, flowing mosaic on "Lonely Thugg," where buried vocal snippets underscore Xen's unsettlingly organic feel. "Failed," one of a few melancholy and melodic interludes, recalls the way Oneohtrix Point Never chopped and pasted the melodramatic sounds of '80s New Age into new forms on R Plus Seven. However, Ghersi tempers cerebral soundplay with pure emotion, a move that gives Xen its own rich character and depth. The piano on the meditative "Held Apart" flows like tears in the rain, while "Sad Bitch" and "Wound" let their electronics sing just as beautifully as a human voice as they flicker between rapturous and mournful. The way Arca plays with and decorates time, letting sounds and moods mutate spontaneously, makes Xen a complete picture of his artistry and also promises much more.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares