All it takes is one viewing of the digitally altered, living photographs of scowling babies in the creepy and hilarious video for "Ass Swung Low" to know that Arca's world is a twisted one. In his well-deserved and swift ascent to cult dancefloor hero in NYC, he's welcomed us into a space that's dark but not evil, deranged for strange ends rather than destructive ones. Regardless of the poison you choose, the prevalent vibe of his Stretch EP series' screwy, shifty take on trip hop will leave you with that alternately scary and exciting feeling of being a little too far down the rabbit hole: monsters make you laugh and smiles make you nervous. Stretch 2, in particular, is a landmark for the promising young gun; his same off-beat humor, groovy dusk-time bass quakes, and liberally paced rhythms have evolved far beyond our already high expectations since his arrival on the UNO NYC roster.
The refined structuring and increased confidence is palpable right from the buoyant lead track and recent single, "Self Defense"-- by the ending commands to give it up and bounce, you'll have been fluttering on that same tip for a bit. Though dark, gritty, and grinding are adjectives frequently employed to describe Arca's style, it's a high-energy burst that comes off like an announcement on the red carpet rather than from the dirges of the underground. Immediately after, he goes in a totally untraceable route by comparison with the abstract time warp of Clipse-sampling album highlight "Fortune." A lot of Arca's calling cards make their due appearances throughout the whole EP-- the multi-voice rap pitch-shifts, the digi-distorted grit of the bass and percussion, strange turns of shuffled meter-- but the drunken, off-the-grid pulse of "Fortune" marks a weirder, more creative use of those resources than ever before. The creepy mumble-rap of "2 Blunted," high-end skulk n' soar of "Tapped In," and electronic free jazz mind-fuck of "Strung" follow in that same vein, essentially extending (stretching?? get it??) the same principles that made "Ass Swung Low" stand out from the bulk of Stretch 1.
Even still, it feels strange to relate this to his past work on some level; the DNA's still there but has moved far enough down the family tree to manifest itself in new forms, moving beyond conceptual extension and into true, hard-earned artistic evolution. Especially "Manners," whose somewhat stoic and slow-mo calypso trance concludes the record, sticks out as an experiment in mood for Arca. It doesn't pack the same transcendental dimension shifts as the album's stacked middle section, but it's an appropriate palate cleanser that suggests this is an artist ready to break with his own identity, even in the middle of forming it. The fact that he's advanced his craft in such a short time and at such a formative stage in his career is admirable, but even without that context, Stretch 2 stands as one of the year's best in abstract beat work.
Stretch 2 is out now on UNO NYC.