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Arca - KICK ii, KicK iii, kick iiii, kiCK iiiii (Album Review)

Thursday, 09 December 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Following her 2020 musical grenade, ‘KiCk i’, alternative electro producer Arca has released a cycle of four albums in quick succession, deploying a panoply of genres, vibes and sound design with devastating effect. The result is one part thrash-electro gig, one part gothic art installation that takes us on a journey through the transformational hinterland of this unique artist’s mind. It’s sometimes vexing, sometimes bewildering, and in certain ways picks up where Aphex Twin appears to have left off.

Since coming out as non-binary a couple of years ago, Arca’s music has taken on a camp sass which is fully investigated throughout ‘Kick’ with artwork presenting the Venezuelan-born artist as kind of cyborg S&M diva. Lyrics, between Spanish and English, are frequently audacious in their voracious libido.​ 

As she declares on Rakata: “Que me como al mundo ya / Con estas ganas de follar ya” (“I could devour the world now / With this urge to fuck”). Along with the screaming synths and furious beats, this is music that dares you to like it, even if singing along seems nigh-on impossible. It varies hugely from track to track and would likely make a horrendously nauseating hung-over listen.

That said, broadly, ‘KICK ii’ follows a reggaeton route before ‘KicK iii’ moves towards the more familiar industrial experimentation of Arca’s previous releases. Through stand-out tracks such as Bruja and Incendio, the singer purrs, spits, raps and shouts over backing tracks that often feel confusingly freeform and loose.

This is music that feels almost impossible to write on a stave—piano, guitar and drum sounds are morphed into cosmic twists of tubular drill-noise, like the soundtrack to the giant space worms in Dune. And yet this isn’t pure sci-fi —throughout the cycle there is a presence of ecclesiastical, gothic spirituality. Arca relocated to Barcelona from London in 2018, could the architecture of Antoni Gaudí have influenced her music?

Possibly, but with such a vast sonic spread it might be difficult to find art that hasn’t influenced ‘Kick’. As we move on to ‘iiii’, the music begins to summon a more identifiable musicality, with watery piano underneath highly autotuned helium lyricism. We now appear to have arrived in the cabaret bar of a spaceship populated by artificial intelligence. It’s a space somewhere between the spooky opera of Luc Besson’s Fifth Element and an episode of Red Dwarf where the small crew encounter a being that is a mystical composite of their four individual personalities.  

It’s also here that Arca starts to collaborate and things begin to feel a little more musically sensical. Esuna features London-based cellist and film score composer Oliver Coates, which gives it more ambience, and later on this record we hear from Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson on Alien Inside. This track offers more cosmic ambience—somewhere in the vicinity of Tim Hecker—but with the gung ho, buccaneering adventure that lives throughout ‘Kick’. You might even call it a kind of queer aggression, but underscored by humour and a deep sense of mischief and fun.

At this point in her still relatively short career, Arca is kicking at the outer edges of what has been done in avant-garde electro. That said, ‘Kick’ is not quite the era-defining masterpiece that may have been intended, it is too unashamedly bloated and sometimes just plain indulgent for that. But it’s hard to deny that it establishes Arca as one of the most striking and defiant voices in modern music: bold, distinctive and innovative...even if it does occasionally recall Noel Fielding's character in Nathan Barley.

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