Arca doesn't want to make you dance. He'd rather watch you squirm, which is precisely what his contorted, writhing beats do. He's an artist that sounds distinctly uncomfortable in his own skin, every sound coming out in a warped, hellish gasp. At some level he's a hip-hop producer, but his shapeshifting illusions occasionally assume the forms of something resembling garage. Stretch 2 is his second effort for UNO NYC (home to the similarly ghoulish Gobby) and though it contains nothing as creepy as the first Stretch's "Ass Swung Low" (which recalled Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" with its deeply disturbing aural and visual content), it's a much more confident release that turns his blackened world of sound from impenetrable to frighteningly immersive.
Opener "Self Defense" is a good harbinger for what you're getting yourself into. What sounds like a mangled didgeridoo is formed into a dissolving chord structure assaulted by lagging breakbeats, as Arca's pitched-down murmurs chatter below. And of course, the whole thing momentarily dissolves into a frantic clatter, as if Arca's grabbing the track by the sides and shaking it furiously. The silty time-delay rhythms and uncomfortable swing arcs that are the blueprint of much of Stretch 2 recall early Downliners Sekt plunged in prehistoric mud and a healthy dollop of existential angst. What are presumably his own vocals are peppered throughout the record, sometimes (unsettlingly) legible but more often spitting out hissing hymns to god-knows-what.
Arca's music is fueled by tension more than anything else—it's the way the whispering winds sweep piercingly through the lurch of "Tapped In" that makes it so eerie, rather than the sounds themselves. Though his playful hip-hop vignettes are nice little curios, the album's real eye-openers are when he stretches out, and mostly come after the album's sent you through its hall of mirrors of mainstream rap appropriation. There's a hint of it on "Strung," where an uplifting, pseudo-gospel melody is suppressed and sent through the underbelly of the track, a glimpse of colour in a world defined entirely by black.
But it's "Brokeup" where things really get interesting—a mutated rave synth (think Lone) blurts and distorts all over the track, like it's losing blood with each gasp before its subsumed entirely into "Meditation," Arca's most beautifully tortured production. Here, he uses delay and harsh panning effects to create a track in bleary double-vision, breathtaking in its drama yet never quite focused enough to harbour anything more than creepy ambiguity. It's finished off with the slightly sunnier New Age tones of "Manners," like Teebs having a bad day. These moments of strange, abject prettiness come late in an album whose sole goal seems to be to engender discomfort, a mutable aesthetic that can prove flimsy as often as it can impress. Above all, though, Stretch 2 is a mood record, unforgivingly dark and antisocial.