Album Review: Arca – Kick ii, iii, iiii, iiiii
Matt Titcombe reviews the four new Arca albums, Kick ii – iiiii.
Arca was one of the most significant artists of the 2010s, working with Kanye, Björk, and FKA twigs, as well as developing a body of solo work at the cutting-edge of the decade’s experimental electronic music. The KICK series is a multi-genre tour de force that cements her importance in jaw-dropping style.
2020’s KiCk i saw Arca take a slightly more accessible turn, but without compromising her sonic and social commitment to do, as she sang on the album’s opener ‘Nonbinary’, “what I wanna do, when I wanna do it”. This was only the first instalment in the KICK series, which was completed last week in a move which saw Arca drop 4 albums in 4 days. Some have said they find this a bit excessive – but this is what makes it great; the sheer confidence and creative capacity is admirable. She pulls it off because each instalment feels distinct, expressing a different sonic identity whilst each retaining her “mutant” fingerprints all over them.
Arca’s Instagram bio used to read: “If it feels oppressive, kick against it”.
‘Deconstruction’ is a key word for her music – she takes on the role of both the bulldozer and the architect. One of the great joys of her artistry is that it feels nearly impossible to pin her down on a musical and personal level.
the sheer confidence and creative capacity is admirable
A quick description of each volume – KICK ii is a “deconstruction and reinterpretation of reggaeton”, mixing hypnotic Latin rhythms and glitchy electronica. KicK iii, meanwhile, is a shattering assault on the listener: a manic take on club music defined by extremity. kick iiii is a more restrained, but nonetheless beautifully ethereal take on alien identity, whilst kiCK iiiii is almost modern classical in parts with its minimal ambient soundscapes centred mostly around the piano on which she was classically trained.
Each album has glorious highlights but KicK iii is probably the standout instalment. ‘Bruja’ enters immediately as one of the year’s best openers, a cry of “oh sh*t” preceding a burst of noise that sounds like the start of a machinic uprising. You can make out the fragmented remnants of a club beat in the mix, but it gets crushed and overwhelmed by the instrumental. In a cacophony of screams, swirling and ascending synths, the song’s climax seems to evoke complete metallic apocalypse, and the lyrics of social excess further its sheer power.
KicK iii shows off Arca’s brilliant use of rhythm. Her beats never let you settle but still feel like they’re driving the songs forward. It is an album that feels like it’s on an infinite pack of energy, with ‘Fiera’ containing what genuinely sounds like electric currents fizzing and crackling underneath the skittering drums. From front to back, it grips you and never lets go, until the plucked angelic beauty of its closer ‘Joya’. ‘Electra Rex’, another album highlight, has lyrics about “warping the text”, and its title’s amalgamation of Oedipus Rex and Electra is made only to “dismember” it, break the gender binary, and shatter repressive models of sexuality and familialism in favour of a liberated queerness.
She is constantly interested in the production of the new, of creative mutation.
It is this philosophy of breaking through or “warping” life itself that is at work everywhere with Arca. On the celestial kick iiii, the lyrics of ‘Alien Inside’ call for an embrace of mutant elements, to recall “the first death, the last birth” of ourselves. You only have to look at the cover artworks to see the interest in posthumanism, the body, and reconfiguration, even before you get to the music. She is constantly interested in the production of the new, of creative mutation. She is a trans woman whose non-binary gender identity is central, not just to her music and lyrics, but her philosophical model of thought. In 2020, she said “nonbinary is more than just an identity – it’s a mentality… a way of reconciling an amalgamation of contradictions contained within us”.
This series is a creative tour de force, with moments of genuine accessibility (the pulsating “Prada” and Sia-sung pop number “Born Yesterday”), moments of violent intensity (the car speaker breaking depths of “Ripples”), and moments of transcendent beauty, (the serenely layered soundscapes of “Xenomorphgirl” and “Fireprayer”). She expertly covers a wide range of sonic ground betraying her vast array of influences; reggaeton, the Aphex Twin-esque ‘Skullqueen’, the hip-hop inspired banger ‘Señorita’, the ambient ‘Ether’ – twisting them all into her own kinetic worlds. There are too many individual masterpieces for me to list them all. KICK ii is the only album that perhaps suffers from its sequencing and loses some of its coherence in the second half, but for the vast majority of these projects, Arca masters all she surveys.