It felt as if the holidays came early last week: As Venezuelan experimental electronic musician Arca released the remaining three albums in her Kick series—with the final, surprise album kiCK iiiii topping it all off on Friday—it’s never been a better time to be a fan.
Arca first started the musical journey last summer with KiCk i, which was arguably her most accessible album upon release. Prior to her 2017 self-titled album, Arca didn’t include her own vocals on her tracks overtly, focusing on her off-the-wall production (2015’s Mutant often sounds like a journey into another dimension through soundscapes over a traditional, front-to-back album of songs) with earlier records flirting more with eclectic hip-hop-leaning beats, as she assisted other artists like FKA twigs, Kanye West, Björk, and more with their music.
The first record of the Kick series—and her first LP since coming out as a nonbinary trans woman—dazzled listeners with sputtering, ripped-apart reggaeton bangers like “Mequetrefe” and “KLK” featuring Rosalia, sandwiched between other more abstract club tracks and collaborations with Shygirl and the late, groundbreaking trans producer SOPHIE. The album went on to score a nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, though she made it clear upon the album’s release that there was more to come.
In true bombastic, Arca fashion (she released a 62-minute long mix, “@@@@@,” right before KiCk i), the musician announced in November that she would unveil the final three albums in the Kick series on December 3. Instead, she slowly revealed each one by one, releasing KICK ii on Tuesday, KicK iii on Wednesday, kick iiii on Thursday, and surprised fans (though she teased it in screenshots via social media the week of) with the previously unannounced kiCK iiiii on Friday.
It’s kind of like the 12 Days of Christmas, except the true love is Arca, and instead of birds and rings, she’s giving a diverse collection of exceptionally unique, often bone-crushing, and sometimes awe-inspiring and beautiful, tracks.
KICK ii had the most singles prior to its final release, with “Born Yesterday” featuring Sia, “Prada,” and “Rakata” all hitting listeners before the week of reckoning. Arca confirmed this album’s sonic palette is a “deconstruction and reinterpretation of reggaeton,” and the latter two singles surely show that.
“Prada” is a deliciously sinister track, the backing beat pulsing through relentlessly, while she fearlessly sings the chorus in Spanish, “Prada heels / She’s queer / She’s queer / And that’s that.” Immediately following in the track list, “Rakata” holds a similar, daunting essence, with Arca’s vocals, all introducing themselves at different pitches, dancing over the bumping, Latin-inspired instrumental melody, draped in spacey synths.
I knew I was in for a treat for this string of releases as soon as I heard the first track, “Doña,” which uses a grotesquely delightful flesh-stabbing sound as the main beat as she lightly boasts in Spanish, “La Doña Arca gets covered / In her bed / Rubs her faith / With self-confidence.”
“Tiro” is in line with Arca’s spin on reggaeton, a banger from the beginning that almost elicits a sense of panic and urgency as it presses forward. Songs like “Luna Llena” ruminate in the same idea from a less obvious perspective, while songs like “Femme” and “Muñecas” feel complimentary, if not more abstract. Though, they make for an interesting exploration; each time I listen to “Araña,” I almost feel a sense of discomfort, as the song flows into a disjointed melodic sing-song instrumental, notes followed by Arca’s beautiful, electronic vocals that reach this level of emotional catharsis that truly gets under my skin in the best way.
“Born Yesterday” doesn’t necessarily feel like it belongs with the rest. That said, it’s a great song. It makes me think back to that pulsing electronic pop sound that was big in the 2010s (think her feature on David Guetta’s “Titanium”) and how, with a far more provocative instrumental under Sia’s voice, artists like Arca are truly ushering in a new age of pop music.
KicK iii is probably my favorite. As a package, it feels the most consistent, and in more plain terms, this shit just goes so hard. Arca said in November the album’s focus was “more on heavy club music,” and it surely delivers some of the most in-your-face dance tracks she’s ever released.
“Bruja” is one of the most brutal album openers I’ve ever heard. If her shriek of “Oh shit!” in the first couple seconds doesn’t make it clear, the thesis statement of sorts she paints with her lyrics surely tells you what to expect: “Hissy fit / Throw it up, bitch / Bounce back, get it wet / Hit it, rip it, stroke” she snarls over the skeleton of a club beat in the first half. By the second half, the song is immensely louder, ushered in only by her piercing wail, the track nearly imploding upon itself.
“Incendio” follows, the first iii single she released back in September, highlighting her inventive production and her electric, unrelenting rapping. It’s unnerving and powerful, ushering in a super grimy synth instrumental as her voice echoes over it. The second single, “Electra Rex,” is another bumping, ever-evolving rager, complimenting songs like “Morbo” and the primarily instrumental “Fiera,” which add to the mood and feel like the soundtrack of some strange, underground, cyber-goth nightclub from the future.
“Señorita” is a personal favorite, Arca flaunting and flexing on anyone and everyone over an absolutely batshit, filthy, industrial beat that pushes harder and harder as the song goes on. “Get wrapped up in some shit / Not sure who you think you’re dealing with / Phlegm spit in your open hole before I cum in it” she muses bluntly on the initial lines of the track, only to later affirm, “All these other bitches are irrelevant / Heaven-sent.”
By the time “My 2” ends, a funky track that plays plentifully with vocal samples and feels, like the rest of the album, generally alien and sinister, the final two tracks offer a sort of reprieve. “Intimate Flesh” is a bit slower and atmospheric, putting her beautiful, more ethereal production at the forefront, in between cut-up vocal accents. “Joya” features Arca’s vocals with minimal manipulation, beautifully cascading over a more whimsical, harp-sounding melody, effectively ushering in some of the more mellow palettes she proceeds to deliver with iiii and iiiii.
kick iiii immediately sounds different than the previous two. “Whoresong” vocally is solely spoken word, Arca’s pitched up voice delivering a poem of sorts over warped piano that ends with the repetitive mantra, “A bloodlust for beauty,” as the sparse instrumentals from the beginning of the track all but vanish by the end.
The album feels far more ambient, winding down after iii‘s immense rush of adrenaline. “Esuna” is a gorgeous track, featuring assistance from Oliver Coates (the album has the most features of the bunch, which absolutely expands the scope of the world she’s creating) that gives the song a sense of freedom and hope, if not some longing and sadness.
“Queer,” featuring Planningtorock, was released in November and feels like a rally cry, especially relevant looking at the reality of queer and trans folks, who often face violence as we continue fighting for visibility and equity in today’s world. Planningtorock’s chorus aches, “I got tears, but tears of fire / Tears of power, tears of power / I got tears like a queer / Queer power.”
“Hija” plays with a guitar at its center, a slight, flickering beat behind it, and Arca’s pitched, alien vocals over it, the lyrics sadly longing for a partner and lamenting the possibility of them leaving. She continues to merge more acoustic instruments with her electronic stylings with “Boquifloja,” while “Alien Inside” featuring Shirley Manson feels once again like Arca is shaping a fully different reality, planet, future, sculpting with her sound the atmosphere of a place that doesn’t exist, or maybe a world within herself.
“Lost Woman Found” stuck out to me, a slow and stunning ballad, complete with a sea of spiky synths with her voice at the center, emoting, “And girl, I’m looking for a miracle / I’ve been walking so long / The first time I felt the sun on my skin / It is my own now.”
So much of Arca’s music just screams her lived experience, a trans woman living in her truth authentically and unapologetically. And often on this collection, she fully owns who she is while shrugging “fuck you” to anyone who doesn’t like it, still finding moments to explore more vulnerable, personal conversations.
So often, I look at the pioneers pushing today’s music forward, and they are queer people, often trans women, exploring their sense of self in full force with their craft. I saw another piece criticizing Arca for doing “too much at once” with these back-to-back releases, and I thought to myself, as much as I know she loves her fans (whom she calls Mutants) and art is always up for subjective critique, the Kick series, and her music in general, is quintessentially about Arca. Full stop.
We’re just lucky enough to witness it.
By kiCK iiiii, Arca has stripped it all down. The first track is a 46-second whisper asking, “How does one coax in the face of pain?” Genre-wise, it feels perhaps a bit closer to her self-titled album. It is so sonically different than the sounds in i, ii, and iii especially, pushing more into a warped classical space as a step forward into the ether from iiii. “Pu” is a minimal synthesizer melody that still has so much emotion to it, almost forcing the listener to fill in the gaps however they choose.
The following handful of tracks are similarly sparse. Arca’s solemn vocals wrap around an ominous, low piano melody on “Chiquito,” with “Estrogen” to follow, a simple and heavenly string melody, twisting around itself. “Ether” is a piano ballad, while “Amrep” introduces electronic instrumentation once more, building from a simple melody to a gritty, staticky panic by the end.
It’s as if by kiCK iiiii, you’ve disintegrated and are starting anew in a fully other realm that is both something resembling paradise and a slightly sinister unknown.
“Tierno” and “Músculos” center Arca’s vocals with an abundance of detailed, gorgeous, and repurposed classical sounds. The latter track’s production moments mirror some classic Aphex Twin (as do a few others in the collection, like the second half of iii‘s “Skullqueen”), which arguably broke ground for music like this back in the 90s; the electronic percussion is consistently at war with itself behind her soft vocals and a cascade of piano chords.
Closer “Crown” is still soft, though by iiiii‘s standards is one of the more direct and punching; the electronic noise between the bright piano is abrasive and gutting, as she sweetly swoons in the chorus, “She wears her crown / From side to side.”
After the run she had last week, it’s a crown Arca has surely earned.
And that’s that. A week later, Arca has graced us with four new albums and 47 new songs. It is a journey; it feels like she is radically building an expansive and exhilarating world, just to gradually rip it to shreds by the end. As quickly as I was screaming at my stereo, grooving to the booty-bouncing tracks of ii and iii, I felt emotional resonating in the poetry and softer essence of the final two albums.
To reiterate, the Kick collection is Arca, her personal and musical exploration, taking center stage, cementing her as a standout artist of today if only as an underlying, inevitable catalyst. Despite how brazenly experimental each album is, it’s still some of the most accessible and pop-adjacent music she’s ever shared, challenging the conventions of so many genres we know by splicing them apart and intricately sewing them back together to create something entirely new.
The Kick collection is dark and revolutionary; nothing else sounds like it. It’s a culmination of her entire discography up to this point, showing her diverse skillset and how truly confident and powerful she is as an artist. If folks weren’t watching for her earlier, they’d better look out (and back the fuck up) now.
Original story published at OUT FRONT Magazine on 12/6/2021 here.