Arca – Kick ii - iiiii
The transgressive icon wraps up her Kick quintet in typically enigmatic style with some highly collaborative and enormously creative new sounds
Welcome to Arca season. The experimental artist has four new albums out this week, one per day, rounding out the quintet that began 18 months ago with KiCk i. The four new pieces of cover art tell a story of sorts, with the titular artist undergoing various machinations: from the keeper of two-headed skeletons, to a mechanised super weapon, to her final exultant form astride a beast straight out of a Frank Frazetta painting.
However, intriguing as the art is, it doesn't shed a whole lot of light on the music. It's a great companion, but two-plus hours of Arca lives and dies on its own independent terms. For better or worse, this is basically what you'd expect from a dense, experimental suite: chaos, cyborgian interludes, pitch-shifted everything, some respite and more chaos.
While KiCk i could be seen as deconstructed club music, KiCK ii is deconstructed reggaeton. A great idea (see DJ Python), but it makes for some of the least interesting music of the whole collection, as the first half leans on typical reggaeton beats (though nicely spectral on Rakata) for fairly straightforward songs. If more avant-garde, or more ephemeral, it may have worked better, but it doesn't hit with the intensity it should. However, Femme brings some interest with what sounds like literal swords swooshing around, before Mica Levi and Clark keep things ticking over nicely. But the collaboration with Sia (Born Yesterday) comes off as far too normal, leaving the album to peter out without much of an impression.
Arca promised that KicK iii would be dealing with “violently euphoric and aggressively psychedelic sound palettes.” Each album opens with a robotic voice as a re-introduction, and this one switches between Spanish and English, raps for a bit, and then the beat descends into a swarm of bees. So far, so good. Incendio (“fire”) features some more Spanish rapping over a Modeselektor-type beat and Rubberneck has some punishing industrial thuds, but it's mostly a sense of controlled chaos. Skullqueen and Electra Rex mix serenity and apocalypse to excellent effect, with the latter indulging in the manic pitch-shifting you've come to expect from Arca. But the quieter cuts are also nice, like the Björk-ish Joya and hip-hop inflected Señorita (co-written with Max Tundra!).
kick iiii was intended to be all instrumental piano, and while it certainly isn't that, it is a relatively calm affair (in stark contrast to its violent cover). Oliver Coates adds some gravitas to Esuna with his typically gorgeous cello; Hija unnerves with child-like, robotic voices among plinky strings; Shirley Manson is understated given her usual style, but pleasant nonetheless on Alien Inside. Queer featuring Planningtorock is a no-brainer Arca collaboration, and a good song, but a bit incongruous on this album.
The final album is most easily relatable to its cover art: Arca bathed in a stream of light, gazing heavenward, though monstrous elements still remain. kiCK iiiii is her most celestial, yet unadorned, collection of songs yet. There are only occasional electronic embellishments, with a lot of bare piano (La Infinita, the beautiful break in Fireprayer), orchestral strings (Estrogen) and glorious, shimmering arrangements (PU, Tierno, Ether). It isn't all smooth – the serrated percussion of Músculos, Ryuichi Sakamoto's "psycho-diva" chat on Sanctuary, the final moment of Crown that could be a throat being slit – but it's as peaceful as you've ever heard Arca.
This collection works perfectly well in its complete form, but could just as easily be chopped into individual albums or tracks (much like Arca does with the concept of genre). It's simply an artist with a surfeit of creativity spoiling us with a glimpse behind the curtain for a couple of hours. Indulge at your leisure.
Recommended: Tierno, Joya, Electra Rex