Friday, March 20th, 2020

Arca – @@@@@

The longest song we’ve ever covered on the Singles Jukebox – a masterclass in queer theory and theoretical physics…

Leah Isobel: Before the pandemic shut down every club in the city, I’d started going out dancing by myself. It’s a self-care activity I’d been circling around for awhile, a ritual to force my mind to return to my body. When I’m dancing, I want music that keeps me moving; form matters less than continuance, and time doesn’t move in the same way. “@@@@@” carries some of that disregard for temporal structure, and not just because it’s a single that stretches over an hour. Arca presents it, at first, as a pirate radio broadcast, so she segues from one distinct idea to the next. But over the course of the piece, sections start to bleed into each other without as much space between – she changes its form both more frequently and more seamlessly, like she’s sculpting with primordial ooze. The music moves from punishing industrial to club music to piano balladry and back, over and over and over. The challenge she presents the listener is like the one I present myself when I’m dancing: can I stay present and responsive to each new dynamic shift? Can I make my body and mind a coherent, functional system? Now that I’m spending so much time alone, this challenge feels more important than before. Arca embeds an answer directly in the track: “you can shake that pussy, bitch.”

Oliver Maier: On the cover of “@@@@@”, Arca is draped over a crushed car. The wrecked vehicle suggests a gruesome accident, the freaky wiring suggests a calculated setup, Arca’s corpselike diva pose suggests both at once. It’s a solid visual metaphor for her music, split between manicured order and grinding chaos, as if any one of the movements (or “quantums”) which comprise “@@@@@” could tear a hole in reality if it were allowed to go on for too long unsupervised. They’re all jammed into the one track under a title implying continuous motion, signifiers unto signifiers, movement towards an uncertain destination; rather than linger on ideas, it spasms and recontorts itself, like a final boss entering a series of new, stronger phases. It’s overwhelming and more than a little exhausting, but “@@@@@” also comprises some of the strongest material she’s ever released. The emotional core developed over her self-titled album collapses back onto the freeform mania of her earlier work, and what emerges is Arca at her most cinematic. “Survivors” and “Amantes” warp in and out of focus like transmissions from a dying satellite. “Mujere” is surely the sound of intestines spilling out of a cyborg stomach. “Turner” is “BTSTU” in a blender. So grand is “@@@@@” that it seems to exert itself, burning through calories or fuel (or both) and churning out moments of brutal pathos: the weary trip-hop lurch of “Membrane”, or the way that “Gaita” ends with a crawl up a major scale that shatters before it can be resolved (even “Form”, the heavenly climax that follows, is a promise for the future rather than a conclusion). Not every moment is essential, and some will have already dismissed it as a glorified series of sketches, particularly with an album proper forthcoming. But in spite of its unwieldy size and shape, “@@@@@” succeeds through its commitment to its own Arca-ness; you meet it on its own terms and you reap the reward, which is to say, the privilege of hearing Alejandra Ghersi salvage scrap metal from another galaxy. Nearly a decade in and she’s been in flux the whole time. Chances are this isn’t even her final form.

Hannah Jocelyn: Like contemporary SOPHIE, Arca shifts between cacophony and pure beauty, but there are only rare moments of balance. Quantum (as these songs are called) “Pacifier” nails. Sometimes, the songs just alternate between chaos and order, like how 3D images flicker between the left and right eyes to give the image depth. (Even if they’re separate, ideally they merge together anyway.) I just wish I understood this more, particularly why it had to be a 62-minute track instead of a mixtape. These comparisons are amusingly different from Arca, but: On Spotify, They Might Be Giants’ opus Fingertips is separated into different tracks just like the proper CD, though there are still recurring motifs and enough in common between the songs to justify a single track. There’s just no unifying theme – even 45:33 is “running jams commissioned by Nike.” Maybe that’s the point. The Diddy laughs of “Recusion” were outright irritating, but the section right after at “Monstrua” is the best part of the whole single. If something isn’t working, it’s worth toughing out for the parts that do.

Joshua Lu: Described by Arca as a “transmission broadcasted into this world from a speculative fictional universe,” “@@@@@” is a body of work that defies contemporary categories. You could try to call it an album, with an adapted “tracklist” of 30 bits; you could call it a single to justify its inclusion on this website, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a single that’s also over an hour long. You could compare it to those YouTube channels with 24/7 lofi hip-hop music, intended to be pleasant and firmly in the background of your life, because like those tracks, “@@@@@” is at times ambient and peaceful, not dissimilar to those white noise clips you’d play to help you fall asleep. Other times, though, it veers into more abrasive, disruptive, and pointlessly weird audio clips, actively fighting for your attention like an orchestral symphony intended to be your main source of entertainment. Words (not necessarily lyrics — they’re too fluid to be called them) sometimes flitter by, in English or Spanish, and further draw your intrigue, even when they’re too faint and distorted to be discernible. Categories be damned, though — it’s best to consider “@@@@@” a journey, if not into the kind of bizarre world that Arca envisions, then at least into the mind of a talented producer operating without regard for definitions.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: “@@@@@” feels like the waves on a southern California beach in winter. It opens loud and disruptive, fake dj calls and glitch pops hitting like the crash on the sand, but quickly (relative to its length) switches to more subtly disconcerting moves. The trick is that Arca never lets you regain footing after the first blast– the cold water washes over you again and again, breaking you just as you thought you understood its logic. And yet it’s a baptism I’ll come back to time and time again, always hoping for a closure that will elude me. It’s the kind of song that can’t help but be a puzzle, but it’s a puzzle that I’ll always try to solve.

Nortey Dowuona: Lick me Dadd!

Alfred Soto: Yeah, no — I’m not reviewing an hour-long track. I’ll review at most ten minutes of tactically deployed squelches, synth drops, and vocals sampled from many a fever dream.

Reader average: [2.11] (9 votes)

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2 Responses to “Arca – @@@@@”

  1. what was the previous record for longest single reviewed, lol

  2. I want to say Kamasi Washington?