After dropping two free EPs through UNO, the largely anonymous producer known as Arca has let loose a twisted, genre-defying album for his first official release. Morphing hip-hop beats into mutant excursions in the blink of an eye, Stretch 2 forms an image of Arca as a craftsman, one who pieces together immensely detailed compositions while placing a higher value on the unexpected and otherworldly than the average beat producer.
In some ways, Stretch 2 is a relief. One doesn't feel the need to listen to this record in search of the next big tune or whilst constantly pondering if and when its tracks could fit into a DJ set. Instead, it is an album that's simply there to be listened to—not in the background, not as part of a shuffled playlist, but from beginning to end. Fortunately, Arca supplies enough worthwhile content to hold listeners' interest in such rare moments of concentrated attention, opening up dense new worlds of woozy audio with each track. The results could be described as druggy; pitches waver and glide, shape-shifting drums clatter and boom, and vocals (seemingly culled from indistinguishable rap acapellas) are processed to alien ranges, stretched far beyond the capabilities of the humans they first emanated from. Still, these results are not "stoney" by any means, as the haze and hiss which fogs much of today's more "abstract" beat music is absent here, allowing the stunningly elaborate constructions to be heard in a mostly uninterrupted fashion.
All this gives Arca license to get weird, and he definitely does. "Fortune" finds him going out the furthest, splicing and repitching together what sounds like samples of a Neptunes beat into a considerably off-kilter bit of funk, while the odd combinations of warped samples and tense rhythms found on "Strung" and "Brokeup" aren't too far behind. But when Arca doesn't dive so deep into his stranger inclinations, he lands on some truly powerful productions. In particular, "Maiden Voyage," "Tapped In," "Meditation," and "Manners" stand out, as each tune finds a balance between the man's impressive production abilities while offering glimpses of genuine songcraft. Each cut takes an entirely different path to its end: "Maiden Voyage" works a simple arpeggiated melody into altered forms amongst changing sonic landscapes; "Tapped In" lays warped vocals atop dense drones and hesitant drum clatters; "Meditation" builds around a bed of angelic chords to fashion a solid beat; and contemplative closer "Manners" patiently comes together only to seamlessly flip into an almost entirely new song in its last minute. Furthermore, rarely does a pattern emerge in terms of arrangement on Stretch 2. The expected divisions into verse, chorus, and breakdowns are virtually nonexistent, as Arca traces a unique course for his songs, making them appear more as actual compositions as opposed to more traditionally structured beats.
Stretch 2 speaks volumes to Arca's potential. The amount of simultaneously moving parts his productions manage to make work together is truly impressive and the clarity with which each element is presented is nothing short of exceptional. But these highly detailed tracks, while an audio marvel, are clearly not for everyone, given their underlying eccentricity and tendency to abruptly change course. For now, Arca's music is most likely to be appreciated by those who themselves attempt to craft tracks with an ear towards sound design and those electronic-music connoisseurs who enjoy scratching their head as much as they do nodding back and forth with it.