Not too long ago, a defining aspect of Arca’s most essential work was the absence of lyrics. Overtime, vocals became more integrated into her work as samples and heavily manipulated groans before the arrival of her self-titled album, on which she prominently sings in Spanish. Still, her trembling voice is prioritized as an instrument rather than a vehicle for lyrics on the pivotal Arca, maintaining the raw expressionism that makes her so uniquely alluring.
Arca takes her newest single “Nonbinary” another step further from the pure abstraction of her excellent first two albums, Xen and Mutant, as she adopts a vocal style that could easily be described as rap or spoken word. Production-wise, the majority of the song features sparse, rippling drum slaps that allow plenty of room for her lyrics to take center stage. She still uses sampling to excellent effect: a motif can be identified in the ringing blast of a gunshot as Arca takes steadfast aim at the haters. Eventually, the tempest of her more typical instrumentals emerge, but only to energize crucial moments.
While Arca’s peerless production ultimately remains intact, this new style of vocalization may cause many of her seasoned fans to prickle. While I still find myself preferring the nebulousness of her previous work, Arca proves she is no slouch lyrically and provides a unique vocal performance. She spits with common hip-hop swagger, yet delivers her message with a quiet strength; she hardly raises her voice until the climax of the song when a cacophony of electronic zaps and bouncing bullet shells whip around her.
Her poetry obviously targets the disdain of bigots, but also seems to acknowledge potential fan backlash at her stylistic departure. “I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it / Bitch, I got the bags to prove it” she immediately states, reminding the audience of not only her success, but how she reached acclaim in the first place. An uncompromising promise to be herself dominates the entire song. “It's not who do you think you're dealing with, no / 'Cause you're not ‘dealing with’ / There's no deal.”
Ultimately, an artist needs to adapt to prevent staleness from creeping in. The ability to evolve separates an artist that was great in their time, from the greatest of all time. Would Wikipedia describe The Beatles as “the most influential band of all time” if they never moved past the boy band antics of their formative years?
Regardless of how you may feel about the tweaks Arca has made to her formula, her always masterful production alone makes this a track worth listening to, for loyal fans and the uninitiated alike.