Arca Morphs Into Four New Fractal Forms With Her Expanding ‘Kick’ Universe
Alejandra Gershi, who records under the moniker of Arca, is among the few contemporary artists whose sonic signature warrants the stature of a visionary. Her music is characterized by amorphous tones and textures that balance edge and atmosphere to form transcendent soundscapes with few parallels. Having long secured a respected spot at the vanguard, she stretched to the mainstream sphere when Kanye West recruited her for production duties on 2013’s “Yeezus.” Subsequent collaborators have included the likes of FKA Twigs and Bjork. Arca’s last record, “Kick i,” came in the wake of her self-identification as non binary, and celebrated this development with a new foray into styles like reggaeton, which lend themselves to a brazen display of sexuality, while further showcasing all of her celebrated vanguard designs. She revealed early on that the album would be part of a trilogy, but has now gone further and released four more installments, “Kick ii,” “iii,” “iiii,” and “iiiii.” Each release focuses and expands on a different aspect of her signature sound, together comprising an expansive and incisive showcase of a musicianship so rich that such breadth and depth only begin to effectively capture it.
If any artist truly warranted the label “Latinx,” rather than the already gender-neutral “Latin,” it would be Arca, whose gender identity and heritage are both at the forefront from the onset. “Kick ii” begins with “Doña,” which translates to “lady,” and serves as a statement of intent via a deconstructed dance tune. A dance floor-directing refrain is delivered in glitching a capella, while sci-fi sound candy imparts Arca’s signature stamp. In the background, the titular wonder addresses the listener directly, whispering, “Hello everybody,” soon admitting to having felt “hidden in a box,” and referring to “a particular word / That they would prioritize / Misrepresenting and conflating.” She takes charge and breaks readily into reggaeton for several tracks, particularly the “Neoperreo” style, characterized by a subculture largely born out of cyberspace and promoting inclusivity. A series of upbeat bangers find Arca channeling her impulses more into feisty personality than radical sonic turns in a stretch of surprisingly accessible, festive fare – “Prada,” “Rakata,” “Tiro,” and “Luna Llena.” Fellow Venezuelan producer CardoPush contributes to several tracks spanning the whole “Kick” project, and is joined by Boys Noize on “Tiro,” by which point a full-fledged party is in progress. “Lethargy” begins to unscrew the ends and skip beats, leading into a sharp left turn on “Aranña.”
Having coyly limited her tricks to modest oddities of flourishes, Arca now casts her spell. Drawing the listener headlong into the fantastical sonic spaces with which she made her name. “Araña” plods along, wildly mutating and scattering, launching you out of gravity’s dictates and jerking you back with strategically planted snares that provide just enough tracks to keep the train running, as it ventures into territory where instruments exceed freely past their traditional expressive parameters. “Femme” settles in the uncharted space and lingers in the groove, within a cloudy, buzzing soundscape. Upon “Muñecas,” featuring contributions from fellow non binary musical visionary Mica Levy, Arca meanders into increasingly alien realms, as tortured choirs accompany calls for “all my dolls” to “blow incessantly.” On “Confianza,” a refrain of “Give, give with confidence” rings in a thrilling soundscape of frenzied exclamations and notes detuning in real time around oblique percussive markers. “Born Yesterday” takes a broad pop turn, while still decidedly uprooted by Arca’s sonic visions, with Sia bellowing with stadium-ready dramatic zeal from worlds beyond the stage. While the song’s tortured romantic entreaty feels markedly out of place on the album lyrically, the gestalt personality of the artistic pairing offers plenty to enjoy.
Having teased all her usual sonic signifiers, Arca finds a firm footing in the heart of the club and hammers out tracks with avant abandon, making for a high octane, glitchy onslaught throughout “Kick iii.” From the opening track, “Bruja,” the music bears the unmistakable influence of the late Sophie, another non binary game changer in music with whom Arca collaborated on “Kick i.” The simultaneously minimal and maximal onslaught of metallic machinery, cartoon excess, and post-ironic posturing that defined Sophie’s sound surfaces repeatedly over the album’s running time. In this setting, Arca plays the vampy vixen thriving off dancefloor frenzy. On opener “Bruja,” she commands, “Hush it, while I lick my bloody claws, grrr.” The lyrics get unabashedly explicit in their sexuality, and ultimately lead repeatedly to frivolities like the “Tuck it in, soft, tuck it in hard” chants of “Rubberneck” and the “I can hit it, rip it, kill it, slit it” prowess of “My 2.”
The stuttering “Señorita” is the most overtly hip-hop-influenced excursion of the album, and the raging IDM overload becomes so dominant by the point of “My 2” that Arca seems to fall into auto-pilot amid glitch fireworks that would normally stop shows. “Intimate Flesh” is more subdued, but decidedly off-kilter, with wordless voices blended into a backdrop that blurs the lines between man and machine. The closest semblance of a conventional song, “Joya,” is saved for the end, with Arca opening up, “I want to tell you that you are a jewel / Between the men I feel so much love,” as tangled instrumental segments are thrown over a backdrop that locks into repeat and gradually reduces to a simple, pointed formation under the music’s evolutionary pressure.
On “Kick iiii,” the music pans out from the dance floor and takes on new dramatic potency and depth. Opener “Whoresong” finds two pitched-shifted voices narrating a tale that revolves around a “bloodlust for beauty” over a tortured atonal soundscape. “Esuna,” featuring acclaimed cellist and composer Oliver Coates, recalls “Medulla”-era Bjork, with immersive, choral vocal abstractions atop a wobble bass-informed atmosphere and swells of piercing feedback. On “Xenomorphgirl,” Auto-tune gargles surface between wet snares and whimsical percussive sputters, over a sustained, elusive tone that sounds both human and mechanical. “Queer,” featuring Planningtorock, is essentially a Latinx radio song if distorted, cloaked in reverb and delay, stretched out, magnified, and warped. “Witch” featuring No Bra, finds Arca meditating on a cryptic refrain of “This witch is so seductive, elective and protective,” in a spacious, fluid arena of distorting and slurring sounds.
The content gets overtly personal on “Alien Inside,” featuring spoken word vocals from Garbage’s Shirley Manson, who describes “a mutant faith / an identity… Perhaps nothing but a chance construct” over a dystopian soundscape of thunder and computers gone haywire. On “Lost Woman Found,” Arca sings, “I’m looking for a miracle,” and eventually, “I’ve found a miracle / The changing kind,” further elaborating on “what it means to recognize the alien inside.”
Finally, “Kick iii” withdraws to a more reflective focus, with Arca growing more restrained and comfortably abstracted. Opener “In the Face” asks, “How does one coax?,” and the songs slowly chip away at an answer. Tracks like “Estrogen” are built from conventionally appealing melodies left undirected, to find their way within the murky sonic spaces of Arca’s crafting. It’s an impressionistic affair altogether, with many of Arca’s trademark tricks recast in more subtle ways. Candid, unaffected vocals are delivered with heavy processing. Lithe, winsome tunes take form within dark, droning frames, and the songs repeatedly evoke the feeling of light entering an open space.
Among the standouts is “Sanctuary” with Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Over traces of post-dubstep wobble, a bubbling, seething brew emerges and gives rise to the revelatory pronouncement of “a mutant face.” The song takes form instantly, as if informed by the forging of a new identity. The entire journey hints at closure upon “Crown,” which elegantly winds down and fades out, with the atypically bare backdrop revealing the emotion in Arca’s voice as she runs through reflections like “How could it fit inside a body so petite?” and “How could she flip it all upside down?” The conclusive declaration that rings at the end is “She wears her crown / From side to side.”
Altogether, Arca’s four new albums offer more of the same sounds that we had come to associate with her by point of “Kick i.’ However, every Arca release until now has been so informed by whimsical idiosyncrasies and packed with dense displays that there have been few opportunities to enjoy all of the elements at work. Arca’s pieces are full of fleeting thrills that leave the listener with a dropped jaw or wide grin before speedily confounding and moving toward the next reaction. The running time of over two hours comprised by the four new albums finally provides enough material for the vision to adequately manifest. The loose organization of the music into the various installments aids in the effort. “Kick i” leans heavily on the newfound Latinx dance focus, while generally teasing all the trademark traits. “Kick ii” captures the glitchy peak of dancefloor revelry in all its manic, radical excesses. The third volume emphasizes dramatic scale and depth, while the fourth represents refinement and sublimation. With lyrical and musical choices inspired primarily by complexities surrounding Arca’s non binary identity, the composite release serves as a consequence, expression, and celebration of that identity. Like its creator, the music subverts norms, defies categorization, and amounts to a marvel in a category all of its own.