It is always hard to be objective when it comes to Arca. That’s simply because the Venezuelan born producer, songwriter and singer Alejandra Ghersi is rightly recognized as a giant of music, and her personal, experimental sound and taste has drawn a path for such a large number of artists in the past decade. In addition, her influence on mainstream music is undeniable, starting from her collaborations on universally acclaimed records such as Björk’s Vulnicura, FKA Twigs’ LP1, and obviously Kanye West’s Yeezus. Beside these appearances in pop music, Arca has carried out her musical vision through three solo LPs. These were experimental electronic albums made up by terrific, chaotic atmospheres and extremely refined sound design, a feature that is a staple through all of her productions. Even if 2017’s self-titled Arca sounded like one of her most approachable works so far, with lyrics and tracks more similar to classic pop songs, it was something far away from the typical idea of pop.
KiCk i is Arca’s fourth solo album and her second on XL Recordings. Announced a few months ago, it comes out after a long wait, enriched by the release of the epic 62-minutes-long single @@@@@ and a huge mixtape under the moniker of DIVA EXPERIMENTAL. As soon as she revealed some of the featured artists (including Björk and Rosalía), many thought about a turn to more mainstream sounds, especially when comparing it to the two releases of the previous months.
That’s just partially true. KiCk i is actually a collection of short songs with lyrics, in the most common way, as a pop album is. But it also sounds like a completely new form of pop, where musical genres overly mingle with each other and become unrecognizable. Also in the most classical forms of song, she manages to add something unexpected and disturbing, detouring into awkward directions. There is an element of chaos and rejection of the rules that permeates her music: this is an aspect that also recalls Ghersi’s eclectic DJing style.
The opener track “Nonbinary” shines a light on one of the main themes of the record, the affirmation of Arca’s non-binary identity: it is a sort of preliminary statement where she makes clear that this gonna be a really personal album – “I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it (…) But, bitch, you’ll never know me” she quickly whisper over a crunchy industrial beat. The following “Time” sounds like a radical change, a chilly synth pop track with chorus end echo effects. “Mequetrefe” and “Riquiquí” instead enlighten more explicitly the influence of reggaeton and latin music in Arca’s sound. Not surprisingly, she still plays and experiments with the more common patterns of those genres: improvised changes in time, glitches, distortions and harsh synth carpets turn the songs into something completely different.
At about halfway through the album, a series of exceptional features starts, giving even more various shades to Arca’s productions. “Afterwards” would sound like many other songs from Björk, with dreamy synths and overwhelming vocals, but when Ghersi joins her in the second half a touching duet starts, surrounded by ethereal, uplifting electronics. SOPHIE co-signs one of the oddest tracks, “La Chíqui”: a really experimental production made up by excerpts of rave beats, super fast synth phrases, and hyper processed vocals, all mashed up into a chaotic jam. “KLK”, featuring Spanish post-flamenco star Rosalía, is definitely a more traditional banger, led by an addictive groove that lasts the entire track, even when the sound layers behind it become more sophisticated. London rapper Shygirl is the protagonist of “Watch”, a sort of experimental hip hop song with industrial atmospheres – other tracks, where Arca herself sings, can also be considered rap songs; a nice comeback for the fans of her very first EPs. The two final tracks, “Machote” and “No Queda Nada”, are even more emotional, and reveal the troubled and restless feelings behind the record.
By the end of the record, Arca has moved through so many different soundscapes that could make someone feel confused or destabilized. But nevertheless, her volcanic ability to push forward new ideas and to innovate musically as only a very few can do is remarkable. Once again, KiCk i confirms the charm of such an unclassifiable and sometimes unintelligible artist.