“Xen” is the major-label debut album from Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi, or “Arca.” As an artist, Arca has collaborated with some pretty high-profile indie acts like FKA Twigs and even Kanye West on last year’s “Yeezus.” On “Xen,” Arca lays down some seriously experimental, patient, and sonically intriguing material. However, “Xen”’s tracks could use more development to make the album more satisfying.
“Xen” is best at straddling the fence between fragility and abrasiveness. The album’s opener, “Now You Know,” establishes a watery, electronic ambience which sets the stage for abrasive synth freak-outs. Some of the sounds on “Xen” sound like they’re actually clipping. Arca balances these textures in an exciting way – the track “Xen” isolates a grinding synth over a low, atmospheric drone, and the result is chilling. Other times “Xen” is a triumph of tenderness. The track “Failed” breathes on what sounds like a computerized harp. The track’s placid theme is meditative, sparse, and gorgeously delicate.
On other tracks, though, Arca loses his audience. Take the track “Sad Bitch,” which shows a lot of promise with layered electronic timbres that evoke the descriptor “feral industrial.” When Arca brings this sound into the harmonic spheres it’s exciting, but for its bulk the track vamps on atonal computer sound that gets monotonous after two minutes. Too often, “Xen” is unaware – it’s ideas don’t develop beyond their primal origin and become self-indulgent and unhinged without building up to anything that adds interest.
Still, with “Xen” it’s easy to see why other artists want Arca on their stuff. Arca captures something undoubtedly unique and even moving with the types of sounds he brings to the ambient electronic style. The fact that Arca’s sound exists outside of the context of pop form is both the album’s strength and weakness. On “Xen”’s strongest tracks, Arca interprets electronic music in a way that is rivetingly human. This makes the album a worthwhile listen – just one that comes with its share of speed-bumps in the form of unfullfilled ideas. 68/100
Howard is a member of
the class of 2017.