Following her astonishing album KiCk i, Arca has released Madre. The EP holds four versions of a song Arca wrote “years ago,” each an operatic and cinematic beast of experimentation. Made in collaboration with Oliver Coates, the project is as much an exploration of style as it is a celebration of simplicity. Arca’s vocals are the sonic focus of this EP; in fact, the artist’s bewitching voice is all we hear on “Madre Acapella.” But this focus is partnered with compelling instrumentals, which are progressively reduced to their simplest forms as the EP moves forward. Madre is a risk-taking mediation on balance and yet another success in Arca’s portfolio.
Beginning with the title track, Arca is found in a world reminiscent of her 2017 release Piel. Unlike more recent work, Piel was often slow-moving, with strands of ambiance fluttering around Arca’s voice. “Madre” is similar, with its alien formation of strings and organic structure. These strings are central to the conceptual elements of the EP. In a statement regarding the project, Arca describes buying a cello specifically for the second track, “Madreviolo,” and subsequently destroying the instrument upon the song’s completion. Allusions to the birth and destruction of this cello are carefully placed throughout Madre. Strings accompany Arca on the first two tracks before vanishing on the third; then, like a ghost, they reappear in the closing song. But this time, Arca is nowhere to be found.
Though deeply conceptual, Madre respects the fundamental element of music: sound. Where KiCk i was glossy and crisp, Madre is imperfect and deeply human. No track better shows this embrace of imperfection than “Madre Acapella.” Through the song, Arca mournfully remembers familial pain and the end of childhood innocence. “I remember knife fights, animal fights,” she says, then “my mother, I inherited your abyss.” The haunting performance includes quiet moments of breathing and the sounds of saliva being swallowed. It’s raw, and perfectly so.
Madre is more an experience than an EP. As the music unfolds, Arca’s vision becomes a world unto itself. Though there are limitations inherent to a project rooted in just one song, an open mind and readiness to consider Madre outside traditional standards make the EP an enveloping listen. With Madre, Arca solidifies her position as one of the most compelling artists of our time.