Album Review: Madre // Arca

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Arca’s last album KiCk i saw her deconstructing the realms of hyper-pop, encased in pulsating club-kid beats and collaborations with Björk, SOPHIE and Rosalía. However, with Madre, she embraces classical arrangement to reveal her exceptional talent as a musician, vocalist and a lyricist. By singing in her native tongue she manages to display a level of authentic vulnerability and anguish that permeates more so than any other work in her back-catalogue.

A maxi-single project features four re-workings of the track Madre, translating as ‘mother’ in Spanish. Madre then pays homage to the inextricability between herself and her mother, and the mirroring of her identity she sees within her. Arca explained to Genuis that after recording ‘Madreviolo’, she “destroyed the cello [she] bought specifically for this. It had to be like a one-time thing for the version where I pitched up my vocal to castrati registers”. This theme of birth and destruction is something that resonates within the track and is reimagined and recapitulated within the musical arrangement of each song on the maxi-single.

On the title-track ‘Madre’ Arca enlists cellist Oliver Coates to transition her haunting acapella version into a cadence of disparate beauty. Speaking on sharing the original acapella version with Coates, Arca explained “[…]there was an insane resonance and chemistry; where he took it felt like the place I dreamed of but couldn’t reach without him.” 

To take the track at face-value would be to view it simply with a classical lens. Underneath the beautiful nine-minute orchestral track lies homage to Arca’s own Latinx heritage, drawing in areas of Latin-American folk music such as the Bolero. Lyrically the repeated ostinato of ‘Madre Mia’ keeps the audience in a state of seraphic turmoil as her voice vibrates with tones of deep anguish.  

Perhaps the starkest and most unsettling imagery of Arca’s lyricism is the line: “Madre mía, el cordón umbilical nunca se cortó Yo recuerdo amenazas a cuchillo, riñas animales” which roughly translates as “Dear mother, the umbilical cord was never cut/ I remember knife threats, savage fights.”

The stark imagery then returns to the theme between destruction and birth that she mentioned in the creative process of the single, viewing creation and destruction as wholly interconnected. Arca’s lyricism is reminiscent of a Venezuelan Sylvia Plath, subtly incorporating violent imagery as a way of surveying human existence.

An ominous string pizzicato inducts ‘Madreviolo’ as Arca takes the helms of the cello, contrasting against the hauntingly seductive cadence of her vocal arrangement. Each arrangement culminates in a crescendo, which adds to the unsettling and frantic nature of this particular imagining. The haunting choral arrangement creeps up like a ghostly orb, encasing and resonating with you for days.

‘Madre Acapella’ which was the original version presented to Coates, indicates just how captivating and beautiful Arca’s vocal talent is. Her voice manages to haunt and enter the deepest crevices of our mind. It’s sultry and powerful whilst at the same time opening up a level of vulnerability as an artist. It showcases the dichotomy of the two, both commanding and sharing her soul-baring fragility with listeners.

The maxi-single exists as a sort of modern oratorio in which the story refrains over and over again in different contexts, which each have their own distinct mood. Madre showcases Arca’s ability as both a vocalist and a songwriter, creating a cathartic listening experience which is sure not to leave the listeners’ consciousness for quite a while.

Madre is available now on all streaming platforms.

Words by Charity Swales


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