Album Review: Arca’s “Stretch 2”

From the depths of the post-industrial jungle, comes Venezuelan-born artist Arca – who would go on to collaborate with the likes of FKA Twigs, Kanye West, and Björk. While many of us were studying for MPU, Arca has had three releases under his college label, UNO NYC. Stretch (2012) however – the centrepiece of this trilogy – remains to be his most ambitious project, sitting in that awkward space between EP and album. The cover is a perfect summation of the EP’s philosophy. It’s weird. It’s abstract. But the references to real-world entities prevents it from being dismissed as avant-garde. And hey, it even has the approval of Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead.

Stretch 2
Arca
UNO

Self-Defense (★★★★) opens with a bassline that sounds like someone flinging around a didgeridoo. The vocals aren’t so much singing but more trying-to-rap. Even then, the cut and paste production technique prevents any sort of lyrical flow from emerging, plus it kinda sound like The Omen had a speech impediment. I’m also pretty sure the tribal drums at 90 second mark will give you a migraine.

The opening of Fortune (★★★) shows promise. There’s dark undertones in the R&B-flavoured hook opening the track – sorta like a dubstep remix of a Missy Elliot B-side. Eventually the boom-boom-pow of We Will Rock You transitions you into the next section – a collage of random samples stretched out over a minute or so. You can hear the baby-monster from Eraserhead (NSFL), James Blake weeping, and more of Queen sprinkled throughout. I also think at some point; Darth Vader tells you to “DIE!”

Maiden Voyage (★★) is Arca’s take on tropical house. If you have trouble imagining what that is, picture someone badly covering Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. It’s hard to relax when the percussions feel like a drum battle between araabMUZIK and your average Caribbean beach-goer. There’s very little change in dynamics and it sounds like something Jamie xx would fart out while he was having a smoke. Despite all that, Maiden Voyage would fit well in your study mix cause it’s annoying enough to keep you awake. It also helps that throughout the song, Tyler, The Creator’s therapist repeatedly tells you to “Work”.

2 Blunted’s (★★★★★) sole purpose is get you high (it’s in the title). Stray away from this one if you don’t have the speakers for it. The highs and lows on this one vary from whale all the way to dolphin. The opening bassline will shake up your car if played on full volume.  And with the reverb on the vocals, the song becomes strangely sensual – in a serial-killer-whispering-in-your-ear kind of way. The strangest part is the outro, which kinda sounds like someone tossing around a bunch of new-born babies. Yet the only thing bad about this track is that it ends a few bars before it should.

Source: Champagne and Heels

Tapped In (★★★★) extends the psychedelia 2 Blunted introduces. Compared with the rest of the album, the mix is minimalistic. Filling up the lower register, there’s a couple of notes that sound like it came off a smashed up radio. The middle section is almost cliché, using a Theremin to create that Scooby Doo effect – like the one you hear in AHS. But stay tuned cause the sitar solo at the end makes the song worth it.

Strung (★★★) is a poetry-reading of sorts. The song alternates between wannabee rap bits and a synth made to sound to like the coming of the Monty Python God. The lyrics itself aren’t too bad, at least by fuckboy standards. Arca really nails The Weeknd’s brand of F-bomb love songs; not that the words matter, it’s hard to hear over the robotic delivery. There’s something inherently evil about the vocals – like if Technologic was a lot of more Terminator.

Brokeup (★★★★★) would probably do better on Billboards if it wasn’t so goddamned creepy. The androgynous singer makes its returns spitting out fragments of sonic taffy. Under the vocals, is a beat blurring the line between Shlohmo and TNGHT; it’s the closest thing trap music has to romance. There’s no climax or even a proper end to this fairy-tale nightmare; the song exits the same way Karma Police does.

Meditation (★★★★) is angry (note the irony). Not so much the wall-punching kind but more like the time you locked yourself in your room because your roommate forgot to buy your dinner. You can hear the synthesizers screams in the background coating the already jittery drums.  The kick is loud and it’s out to get you. It almost feels like you’re being stalked by a giant – a really smelly Game of Thrones giant.

The EP ends on an optimistic note. Manners (★★★★) almost sounds chilled – achieving what Meditation set out to do. Slap a picture of a scantily-dressed model over it and it would work as a MajesticCasual song. The thinly-spread synths and droned-out vocals calls for introspection, giving you literal space to digest this 30-minute electronic cocktail. My only complaint is that the song needs more cowbell.

Source: Vimeo

Overall, Stretch 2’s aesthetic is hard to pin down. It’s surprisingly varied for an EP and it isn’t exactly ‘car music’ with the sporadic bursts of percussions sprinkled all over chopped-up synthesizers. It’s neither dance-able or sing-able, nor does it want to be liked. Most songs feel unfinished – giving the impression that Arca half-assed what could be his greatest project. But if I had to describe this musical Rorschach test, I’d say it’s shocking but also makes utter complete sense – kinda like bumping into your dad at a futuristic gay bar (fun fact: Arca’s gay). In the end, Stretch 2 sits comfortably among Arca’s more vibrant releases: &&&&(2013) and Entrañas (2016). But what of 2012’s Stretch 1, you ask? Yeah, it’s not that great.

3.8/5

By Joseph Lu
Header image: Pitchfork

I live for 90s alternative rock and sad Swedish power ballads.

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