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Arca: Mutant

With gender identities never more fluid and malleable than they are today, it would be hard to imagine any recording being more perfectly suited to its times than Arca's Mutant. Just as its bulbous and swollen cover entities (created by Jesse Kanda) transcend any conventional definition of male or female, so too does Alejandro Ghersi's slippery Arca project sidestep any of the usual rules by which music presents itself. Consistent with that, the Venezuelan-born producer has himself asserted, “Mutant is about sensuality and impulsiveness as escape routes out of rigidity.” In a post-human universe where established polarities and binaries are losing ground, deformity, in-betweenness, and mutation are valorized, celebrate, and championed. By embracing flux as a grounding principle, Mutant implicitly proposes a shape-shifting space where the outsider is no longer ostracized but accepted, welcomed even.

On Ghersi's sequel to 2014's Xen, the music is as terse as its twenty track titles, most of them single words (including the provocatively titled “Faggot”). The juttering convulsions and broken breaks with which the album opens anticipate the multiple challenges to convention that follow. Par for the course, “Alive” references a number of styles during its brief run—jungle (of a thoroughly bastardized sort, mind you) and ambient electronica among them—without identifying too completely with any single one. With that opening salvo laid to rest, the abrasive title track spews shards across detonating zones with even more forcefulness. There are occasional flirtations with genre forms, such as when a slow head-nodding pulse in “Vanity” alludes to hip-hop and “Umbilical,” “Hymn,” and “Front Load” respectively suggest ties to African, classical, and IDM forms, but the connections are never more than tangential when they're overturned by the music's metamorphosing tendencies.

It's not unusual in Arca's uncompromising world for pretty piano figures to surface alongside punishing beat patterns and wailing sirens, and there's even one breathtakingly beautiful track whose delicate mood Ghersi opts not to disrupt (“Extent”). Peeking through the occasional wreckage are moments of melodic sweetness (one could, for example, easily imagine the stately melodies of “Snakes” re-configured into a solo piano presentation), the music proudly trumpeting its affinity for flux and refusal to sit still. Throughout the recording, structural forms regularly collapse and stable foundations wither, and with constant change so dominant the album begins to play like an ever-mutating single composition as opposed to separate tracks. Mutant is a disarming listen, to be sure, and certainly no one could reasonably label it predictable.

January 2016