Reviews

Arca
KICK (ii – iiiii)

(XL)

8/10

Arca is no stranger to overwhelming her audience. Anyone who’s been to a live show, watched a music video, or just listened to ‘@@@@@knows that being overwhelmed is part of the fun. There’s a thrill in having expectations shattered. KiCk i (the first part of her now fully-formed, five-album Kick series) revealed a deeper philosophy underpinning her wild and overwhelming genre play, which has long been a cornerstone of any Arca production.

The full project was envisaged as “a rallying cry to kick against categorisation”, and an artistic representation of existence outside the binary. The first chapter was at once her most accessible, pop-friendly release, and also one of her most unwieldy. The two coexisted and even coalesced. 

That mission statement can be felt in each Kick record, disparate emotions violently thrashing against each other, sometimes within a single song. 

Arca by Unax LaFuente
KICK ii 

In capsule reviews like this, it’s tempting to make pithy summations of each release: “KiCk i is the pop album; KicK iii is the club album; KICK ii is the reggaeton album.” Arca’s vision offers no neat overviews. While KICK ii does play with reggaeton on experimental and apocalyptic cuts like ‘Prada’ and ‘Rakata’, the genre is one of many styles that the producer deforms.

‘Doña’ sets the tone with its eerie looping vocal mantras and squelching samples that crunch like someone mashing the uppercut button in a fighting game. It’s intentionally loose and disorienting, so when that familiar dembow rhythm locks in on the following track, the hypnotic pull is felt instantly. ‘Luna Llena’ is a particular highlight, and a gorgeous inversion of the deconstructed reggaeton sound, piling on the drama with a stately vocal performance. It should be a hit.

Not long after finding sturdy ground, the album intentionally disintegrates. Ragged beats and bleak atmospheres take over. ‘Araña’ glitches and contorts before settling into a haunted fairground melody that’s about as comical as it is horrifying. ‘Femme’ is even more oppressive with its off-world approach to dubstep. 

We climb out of the murk with ‘Born Yesterday’, a straightforward (for Arca) pop banger that uses a belting, overbaked Sia vocal to achieve a familiar sort of pop catharsis. As a single, it was stilted. While still underwhelming, the song serves a purpose in context. The subterranean synth closer of ‘Andro’ is a more absorbing moment to finish on. 

KicK iii
KicK iii

KicK iii starts with Arca purring her name, in a rolled ‘Arrrrca’, while bomb blasts go off around her. It doesn’t let up from there. She raps over beats that could fall apart at any moment, and sounds incredible doing it. There’s a line about shitting on the pavement that’s never explained. This is Arca at her most garish and entertaining. 

‘Incendio’ might be the best introduction to Arca’s genre fusions. The track initially seems to be a rapid-fire industrial rap song – already a unique mix, but one grounded by her voice. A verse later, and that voice is morphed beyond recognition, pitch-shifted and stretched into a haunted shriek, while drums melt away into fragments. The album is in a constant state of flux. 

‘Rubberneck’, ‘Fiera’, and ‘Ripples’ all explore ideas that are both menacing and goofy, the absurdity peaking on ‘Señorita’, an instant classic NSFW club track that uses its guttural, mechanical sound design to find common ground between ‘WAP’ and Kronenberg’s Crash. 

Even among all this brashness, there are tender moments like ‘Joya’ a delicate ballad that’s straight from the heart, with an obvious homage to Homogenic-era Björk.

kick iiii
kick iiii

Following on from ‘Joya’, this collection focuses on Arca’s ability to stir emotion through elusive textures and haunted vocal refrains. Kick iiii is a more introverted offering, but the stakes remain enormous. The alien choral music approach of her self-titled album is expanded with fresh ideas and off-beat approaches. ‘Hija’ gets that intensity across through the use of clipping on a vocal, which borders on distressing as her voice climbs up the register. There’s even some brilliant guitar work on ‘Boquifloja’ that eventually gets swallowed up by muffled piano chords.

After the unstoppable confidence of iii, this record is a heavy comedown, weighty and empty in the same way as depression. It’s also a meandering blur that offers interesting diversions more than songs. Of the five albums, Kick iiii will be the quickest to be labelled self-indulgent. That’s a positive, most of the time. 

kiCK iiiii
kiCK iiiii

Arca knows that she’s a lot, perhaps more than any listener does. kiCK iiiii cleverly uses space, silence and patience to recontextualise our categorisation of her art once more. 

This collection of experimental ambient classical pieces are expertly arranged and impressively dynamic. Taken with the rest of Kick, they’re a welcome breathing space. But more than that, they’re an intimate look into the joy of composition for a writer like Arca. 

Forever the candid performer, there are moments of punk dissonance, such as at the end of ‘Ether’, where mashed piano chords will jolt listeners who’ve got a bit too comfortable listening to the pretty chamber sounds. The silence that follows is brief. Blaring noise overtakes ‘Amrep’ halfway through, calm replaced with a new numbing and meditative approach. In this new atmosphere, fellow genre-bending legend Ryuichi Sakamoto delivers a disquieting spoken word piece that mirrors one given by Shirley Manson of Garbage on the previous record.  Later, on ‘Músculos’, frenetic drum blasts fight against Arca’s fluid singing, each element ripping pieces out of the other.

We end on ‘Crown’, a return to the charisma and bombast of Kick iii, balanced with slow-motion piano runs. “How could she flip it all upside down?” she asks, ambiguous as to whether she’s bragging or lamenting.

Arca by Unax LaFuente
Kick: The Series

We often think of electronic super-producers on Arca’s level as calculated perfectionists. A data dump of this size could be read as a declaration of musical mastery, but Kick’s power only grows in its occasional crudeness. It’s an unpolished outpouring of feeling that resists cohesion at every step. 

The best art challenges our initial impressions of it; the longer you look, the more depth you find.  When first seeing the opulent, ugly album covers attached to this music, you could react with disgust. Look a little closer, and there’s something beautiful there too. Just like her music, it’s shocking, but is never played for shock value alone. Even if it could use an edit, Kick captivates as it is. There’s poetry, pain, humour, and a lot of welcome weirdness. It’s an endlessly exciting deep-dive into the work of an artist who refuses to be boxed in. 

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