Considering ARENA—the newest EP from NY-raised artist and musician Araya—consists of seven tracks, the colossal rollout and sheer presence are enough to crown it as his best work and rank it above the three previous albums. Besides closing on the twelve-minute track “VA: NIDA,” which makes up about 34% of the runtime, each song has more than enough time to breathe and take bold, sonic risks.
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Each risk never hinders the overall quality, carrying an underlying cinematic sound comparable to the music of artists such as Labrinth or Joji. Basking in a gothic aesthetic fitting for the darker atmosphere, Araya holds his own against instrumentals that could be played at a seedy club or a sprawling cathedral.
In line with the music video where Araya sings inside a towering church, “WHERE FLOWERS GROW TO DIE” stuns thanks to the cinematic organs that send the song soaring. Creeping behind the organs is a trap snare, perhaps more fitting on a hip-hop album, but Araya’s voice makes it work due to how reflective it is of traditional R&B vocals. Unexpectedly, the song morphs into a dance beat, all before reaching the one-minute mark and without losing cohesion.
Vocally, he keeps up with the many changes in the beats and sometimes becomes unmistakable from any of the many electronic reverberations. “DRAGON,” in particular, finds Araya humming like a ghost lost in the night, complimenting the often fragile lyrics that never shatter against the abrasive beats.
“POISON” conversely takes a delicate approach to what is essentially a piano ballad. Slowly but surely, the track ascends—or descends, considering the subject matter—into a faint synthesizer buzz, playing the sonic role of the poison Araya weighs against heartbreak. Not long after, the heartbeat tempo breaks through and takes an otherwise somber testimony into a cinematic beat that continues the EP’s cohesive sound.
Professionally produced and confidently delivered, ARENA leaves you questioning why there aren’t more people already tuning in whenever Araya drops. But more than anything, his newest EP shows him wearing his heart on his sleeve like never before.
“This project touches on things seemingly worth fighting for. The basis of this body of work deals with a love that conceived [my] emotional limits,” said Araya.
At the very least, it seems like there are no artistic limits if ARENA is an indicator of an album yet to come.
Words: David Sosa