Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Arca, Failure, GAS, Mach-Hommy, Kadavar & Elder

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

Christmas came early with many surprise album releases across a wide variety of genres this week. With less than a month left, 2021 shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to spectacular releases.

Arca – KicK iii
Deconstructed Club
Released December 1, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

How often does an acclaimed album get a sequel? Not very much, and they are usually pale imitations of the original work. How often does an artist release multiple sequels, with each of the matching, some even surpassing, the original album? Well, just ask famed producer Arca, who dropped four follow-ups to 2020’s “KiCk i” last week. These four albums expand on the original’s deconstructed club stylings by adding in elements of latin electronic, modern classical, ambient pop and so many more genres it would make your head spin. Each record keeps the theme of her absolutely terrifying and grotesque album covers as well. Tackling all these releases in one review would be too much to digest, so I picked my favorite of the bunch, “KicK iii.”

The third installment in this series is the most hip hop and beat orientated, as well as the most chaotic. Those familiar with Arca’s work with FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, Björk and Kanye West will surely be shocked if this is their first venture into her solo work. She has always released music that can be hard to take in, especially for casual music fans. Arca, alongside her late friend and collaborator SOPHIE, practically built the sound and scene of pop music that helped many LGBTQIA+ listeners and artists alike find comfort in musical idols who wrote about topics that related to them and had the same background as them. This series of albums only expands further on those foundations. On paper, a song like “Incendio” or “Rubberneck” might seem fairly normal, but the execution is so off the wall. The beats are so intricate, with every drum hit and loud metallic clang acting as a piece of the cacophonous orchestra that Arca has entire control over at all times. Her synthesizer textures genuinely sound interstellar.

“Señorita” is a genuine club banger that would be just normal enough for a DJ to spin without scaring off too many partygoers. Arca pulls a lot of production styles into these songs, such as the grime influence on “Morbo,” the ballroom of “Bruja,” or the footwork of “Skullqueen.” “Intimate Flesh” is built around a bunch of obscured vocals in a UK bass setting, but it sounds so gorgeous that you get lost in how the vocals sound instead of what they are saying. The closing track “Joya” is probably the closest to traditional pop music on the album, but it still sounds so starkly different from what you would hear on the radio. Arca’s voice is stretched and morphed in so many ways that it serves as its own instrument in many ways. In a larger context, “KicK iii” serves as the album of bangers. It sits in the middle of the releases in terms of order, but it might be the best one as well. The emotional content of this album is toned down compared to the ones it is sandwiched between, but this one is cathartic in it’s own way. On its own, “KicK iii” is probably Arca’s finest work. Together with the entire series, it helps build a world that few artists could dream of constructing. I feel my rating will go up in time, but I need to sit with this series for a while until then.

I can’t say I fully understand this record and any of its sisters, or any of Arca’s work for that matter, but I acknowledge how influential she is. The truth is, Arca helped build the sound of artists like Charli XCX and 100 gecs. Pop music as it stands today is so undoubtedly indebted to her. Describing any of the “Kick” albums further would not do them justice, as they are so wonderfully alien as well as human and sonically forward thinking that no one can replicate what Arca does. This whole sequence of albums can be a lot to digest, but they are key in understanding one of the single most important figures in music today.

Failure – Wild Type Droid
Alternative Rock
Released December 3, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Not every beloved 90s rock band can continue to put out fresh, quality music almost 30 years on. Going further, few niche 90s rock bands can do that. For decades, Failure have gone against their band name time and time again and have proven to be one of the most consistent bands of their era. 1996’s “Fantastic Planet” was the band’s final album before their hiatus that ended in 2015. “Fantastic Planet” is an underground classic that should be sung praises in the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but the group just never broke through like that. With their new album “Wild Type Droid,” Failure shows that they haven’t lost their magic in the slightest.

If “Wild Type Droid” was a cake, it would have alternative rock batter with a layer of space rock icing and grunge sprinkles. This blend is an absolute delicacy that the trio excels at. Ken Andrews can finally escape the Kurt Cobain comparisons in his vocal delivery, as his vocals have matured and developed their own styles as he has gotten older. Him and Greg Edwards show off their incredible chemistry with their guitar and bass playing locking in perfectly. Drummer Kelli Scott expertly matches the feeling of each song, from the pseudo dance beat of “Water With Hands” to the cavernous cymbal splashes on “Half Moon.”

“Headstand” has a crushing bass tone that mirrors the high, watery guitar line. The dual harmonies on this song make it incredibly catchy. It truly feels like a forgotten classic of the grunge era. “A Lifetime Of Joy” is shockingly impactful and gorgeous given its sub-two minute runtime. This track works wonderfully with “Submarines,” as it explodes right out of the gate into the listener’s ear with that meaty riff. “Mercury Mouth” has one of the coolest guitar lines on the album underneath the chorus. It really feels like you are being launched into space by the force of the band. The ending of “Long Division,” “Bad Translation,” and “Half Moon” is one of the band’s greatest runs of tracks ever up to this point. The album cover is also absolutely perfect for the album’s sound and fits the band’s aesthetic to a T.

Failure simply cannot fail at making a highly enjoyable and competent rock album. Anyone who is a fan of grunge or alternative rock will absolutely love this. It sounds absolutely incredible as well, as the production is top notch. Between this and the Hum album from last year, let’s hope more bands like these see the critical reevaluation they deserve.

Gas – Der Lange Marsch
Ambient Techno
Released December 3, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

Gas is the long-running main musical vessel for German composer Wolfgang Voigt. Voigt has over 30 different aliases he releases under, but Gas is by far his most successful and well known. The project’s main goal was described by Voigt as a way to “bring the forest to the disco” through his use of minimal textures, techno beats and nature recordings. While Gas’s most acclaimed work came out in the 90s, the project was revived in 2017 for more albums. “Der Lange Marsch,” or “The Long March” in English, is Voigt’s most recent, and rumored to be final, work under the Gas moniker.

Gas has always been saturated with minimal techno beats and long, repetitive songs, and “Der Lange Marsch” does not change up that formula very much. The biggest change from this record to previous ones is that the tracks do not transition into each other. In fact, every song fades out in its final seconds, only for the next track to come in full volume. It sounds and is structured like there should be transitions, especially since how abrasive each song’s introduction is. It isn’t known if this is intentional or a mixing error, but knowing Voigt, it is likely the way he wanted it. The album also has a droning high frequency beep that is similar to a smoke detector in the background throughout the entire album. Fans have complained about the bleep on another album of his, but it seems that it persisted. Honestly, it is not as distracting as many make it out to be. Sure, you are aware of it the entire time, but it isn’t mixed high enough to hurt your ears. If anything, it just makes every track feel all the more repetitive, especially with the lack of transitions.

Even so, there are a lot of great ideas on this record that make it feel like classic Gas. The 11 untitled tracks all compliment each other nice and feel like a solid, complete musical idea all together, sans the crossfades. The fifth track features some great haunting brass instruments in the background that feel like the forest this album resides in is about to undergo an ancient ritual. The tenth track adds some eerie wordless vocals, backwards percussion and some distorted synths that really bring the record to an emotional climax when paired with the final track. Overall, Voigt has put out another quality album that probably tops the prior two records. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original run of albums, but it is still a worthy addition to his discography. If Voigt actually retires Gas after this album, then it would be a fitting farewell.

Mach-Hommy – Balens Cho (Hot Candles)
East Coast Hip Hop
Released December 4, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

It is strange to see an artist become popular before your eyes. I’m not talking Olivia Rodrigo level popular, but rather small artists graduating from their insular community on to a larger chasm of the internet. Mach-Hommy was well known in the internet hip hop community for nearly a decade, but the rediscovery of his 2017 album “The G.A.T…” in the past two years is a slow burn that no one could’ve predicted. He released his most widely reaching album “Pray For Haiti” earlier this year in May, but he has surprise-dropped a follow up with almost no lead up other than a vague announcement that it would eventually drop this year.

“Balens Cho (Hot Candles)” covers a lot of ground lyrically, from making it out of poverty, grandparents, taking care of the community and personal health. Mach’s lax vocal delivery compliments the jazzy arrangements on each track, whether it be the witty bragging of “Labou” or the heart wrenching storytelling of “Wooden Nickels.” The latter track features some live saxophones that elevate the feeling of melancholy on the track. The lyrics here deal with Mach’s family, particularly his grandfather, taking care of their community, only for no one to take up the reins or pay respects upon his passing. “Tradition” is a cool little exercise in writing, as Mach uses the same rhyme scheme over the short track that discusses living conditions and evaluating how far one has come. “Self Luh” is a tender send-off to the record as Mach tells the audience that they shouldn’t stress chasing the bag, as the human body is infinite wealth.

Despite being under 25 minutes long, this release has been categorized as an album. It is a wonderful bookend to “Pray For Haiti,” but it does feel like a bit of an afterthought when thought of as a whole new record. To be fair, only eight of the 13 tracks are actual songs, as the remaining tracks are all brief interludes that last less than a minute combined. Still, this one shouldn’t be overlooked. The production might be a bit different to the ear of the mainstream rap fan, but it sounds wonderful once you understand what Mach was going for on this project. The beats are inventive and jazzy, the delivery is inviting and the lyrics are emotionally hard-hitting. Overall, this one is another success in Mach’s upwards trajectory.

Kadavar & Elder – ELDOVAR – A Story Of Darkness & Light
Psychedelic Rock
Released December 3, 2021

3 Globes out of 5

A collaborative album between two of the great stoner psych bands of the 2010s seems like it would be a match made in riff heaven. Kadavar and Elder are both well respected bands who have had upbringings as stoner rock revival bands with lots of metal influence before softening into a more atmospheric progressive rock approach. “ELDOVAR” is the first full length collaboration between the two and sees the two bands at their softest and most atmospheric.

Unfortunately, this also sees the bands at their weakest. Due to the emphasis on texture, the record has a wonderful atmosphere. The bands nail the sound they were going for, but they leave out one of the tastiest treats they offered fans: the riffs. Many of these songs exist in between focused listening and background noise. Without riffs to anchor down each song, they seem to drift aimlessly until the album’s runtime has expired. The instrumentation is well executed and is mixed great, but it doesn’t land in terms of memorability. “El Matador” features some spacey synths that would sound more interesting if they were incorporated into more than just the intro of the song. “Raspletin” has some of the best guitar work on the record, with an absolutely spellbinding guitar passage that feels reminiscent of both band’s older work. “Blood Moon Night” is an enjoyable enough track that doesn’t feel as long as it is, but it also doesn’t justify the eleven minute runtime. The closer “Cherry Trees” acts as a piano led coda to the album, finishing things off rather beautifully.

For any fans of psychedelic rock, this will be a fine listen, but I can’t recommend it over their other works. It is a shame to see two great bands put out such bland material. Hopefully, future collaborations prove to be more fruitful.