Album Review: Arca, ‘KiCk i’

For years, Arca has been at the forefront of the experimental music scene. But in addition to striking a fruitful and unusually long-running creative partnership with Björk, the Venezuelan-born artist is one of the few artists who have helped introduce that brand of glitchy, dextrous electronic music into the mainstream, producing for the likes Kanye West and FKA twigs. So when she announced a new album with guest features from ROSALÍA and PC Music-associate SOPHIE, it looked like she was ready to fully thrust herself into the pop music landscape with a crossover album that has more in common with the forward-thinking bangers of Charli XCX than any of her previous work.

With her voice so prominently featured and a striking album cover that’s impossible to ignore, Alejandra Ghersi’s latest seems like a conscious effort to place herself at the front and center of her music. Her previous full-length album, 2017’s magnificent Arca, had already succeeded in shedding off the veil of her ever-mutating persona by flaunting the talented producer’s impressive vocal range, which, though sometimes as difficult to process as her instrumentals, was deeply steeped in emotion. But on KiCk i, the first in a proposed series of four albums, she showcases her ability to use her voice as the most versatile instrument at her disposal – one that can’t only bend and stretch but also take on new forms. As a result, where Arca presented a cohesive vision preoccupied by a sense of otherworldly melancholy, KiCk i, is fluid, multi-dimensional, and frequently rapturous.

These qualities make for a unique expression of queer and gender non-conforming identity, though Arca doesn’t let herself be defined by her otherness as much as her multiplicity. She might be far from the first artist to adopt this post-PC Music, hyperpop approach to electronic music as a means to challenge fixed conceptions of gender – if anything, she’s simply joining an already flourishing scene – but few have done it in such a compelling manner. The opening track, ‘Nonbirary’, acts as a defining statement of sorts: “I don’t give a fuck what you think/You don’t know me—you might owe me,” she spits. The aggressiveness on display here is enthralling, but what makes it so enjoyable is her jubilant, uncompromising attitude: “What a treat it is to be nonbinary, ma chérie, tee-hee-hee/ Bitch!”

It’s unfortunate that the track’s spiritless beat is unable to match Arca’s energy, but there are a few tracks here that achieve that balance perfectly. “I’m too hot for a man,” she proclaims against a throbbing club beat on the Shygirl-featuring ‘Watch’, while the hard-hitting ‘Rip the Slit’ is driven by frenetic snares and pitch-shifted vocals that burst with a sense of restless vitality. Follow-up ‘La Chíqui’ is just as relentlessly fierce, melding together Arca and SOPHIE’s experimental stylings and mutating them to near-orgasmic effect. For all the focus placed on Arca, the moments on KiCk i that leave the biggest impact are those where her collaborative spirit shines through, like the infectious, raeggaton-infused ‘KLK’ featuring ROSALÍA, which also brings in musical influences from her home country of Venezuela by creatively repurposing an instrument Ghersi learned in school called the furruco bass drum.

For an album that can easily be described as Arca’s most accessible effort to date, KiCk i remains impossible to pin down. It succeeds in introducing a new musical universe that draws from a million different reference points while retaining its singular vision, one that inhabits multiple spaces as it fluctuates between different expressions of hybrid cultural and gender identities. But despite its many highlights, the record is unfortunately held back by some of its more underwhelming moments: while ‘No Queda Nada’ makes for a beautifully emotive closer that calls back Arca’s previous effort, tracks like ‘Calor’ and even the Björk-featuring ‘Afterwards’ feel out of place here, and probably wouldn’t stand out in a more fitting environment either. But with the promise of at least three more albums in the same vein, there’s a lot to be excited about in this new era of Arca’s career.

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