ALBUM REVIEW: Arca, KICK ii
There is this one Treehouse of Horror special of The Simpsons where Homer is forcibly fed way too many donuts at once as a punishment in Hell. Donuts are his absolute favorite treat and to turn his vice into misery, the Devil just keeps hitting him with them until he gains like 600 pounds. This is how I feel about Arca’s new KiCK album cycle, which just released four new editions to the saga in four days time. While Arca has become one of my favorite artists, I’m overfull with her music and need to slowly start to process each bite. Each day I have woken up to another insane album cover featuring Arca straddling a mutant horse, or transformed into a giant flesh gun, or in the case of KICK ii, mutilating a clone of herself (?) with lasers while shitting out an orange orb in an industrial warehouse. To say that the 32-year-old Venezuelan electronic artist is prone to theatrics is an understatement, her last major series of concerts featured her writhing around a wet, rusted stage in the round while onlookers took pictures, gawked and pontificated on the meaning of it all. This was a little bit before KiCK i, an album that has significantly grown on me over the pandemic due to its insane feature list including the late SOPHIE, as well as its sonic consistency. Also, tracks like “Time” and “KLK” with Rosalia put Arca in a unique position as an independent artist. While she still has complete control of her releases via XL Recordings, she is also prominently featured in modeling campaigns for prestigious designers like Bottega Veneta and Balmain. With all this clout at her disposal the question is: is the KICK cycle a successful takeover of the current zeitgeist or a content dump for only the hadcore fans? Well, let’s pull it apart piece-by-piece, with KICK ii following our classic review of i.
While iii takes it in a direction that reminds me of the blunt force trauma of her Yeezus production credits, and iiii and iiiii take her sound to some brand new universes, ii is perhaps the most predictable project of hers, after i of course. With the success of “KLK” as a single last year, it seems that Arca is definitely getting more comfortable in the world of reggaeton. Tracks 2-5 come directly from this space, and it is by far my favorite suite. Before this is the proclamatory and fan favorite intro “Doña”, where Arca is talking about being “covered in his bed” while the samples of bodies being catapulted at the wall loop incessantly. This recalls her earlier and more adventurous work, as on &&&&& or even parts of Xen. The previous singles “Prada / Rakata” follow, which read as some of her most enjoyable and straightforward work to date. The former is much lighter on the songwriting front, essentially a queer anthem where Arca is grinding with a man while wearing a full Prada fit. “Rakata”, which is a reggaeton term for attack, switches it up so she is literally killing it on the dancefloor, spouting lyrics like “I eat the world now/With this desire to fuck”. The beat stays in this ethereal, echoed out Latin dance pocket that satisfies me more each time I listen to it. “Tiro” feels like a diseased Tego song, the drums hit super hard but the ever-modulating vocals just give it this perfectly fucked vibe.
With all this praise, you may be wondering, how did this only end up with a B-? Well, after the creeping “Luna Llena”, the LP loses sight of direction in my opinion. It’s kind of the Arca vibe to be ultra subversive and fuck with listener expectations, and she does that here to a certain extent. “Lethargy” is an immediate change up, adding in some more contemporary drums over some reflective ambient synth sounds. My problem is the track goes absolutely nowhere before just kind of fizzling out. From there, it’s a bit of a free-for-all stylistically and quality-wise. “Araña” and “Muñecas” are two late-album highlights for me, calling back to the scattered soundscapes of her self-titled debut. “Muñecas” is especially charged and haunting, delving into “poisoned” people, “There is nothing left for both of us/Out of this prison/We are not normal people/We have no decency”. At it’s best, KICK ii is able to artfully capture the darkest corners of the human soul, stacking all of these twisted experiences to make a monster like on the front cover. At its worst, we have a simple remix of a Sia track. “Born Yesterday” is the most confounding addition to this record by far. When I first heard this, I really thought it was an unnecessary team up that would only sound decent in the context of a Sia album fully produced by Arca. It makes even less sense side-by-side with these Spanish language experimental blasts of sound. Its straightforward lyrics like “mistakes are part of life” mismatches with all the chaos and death that Arca conjures on the best cuts. While I think the production is still on point here, it belongs nowhere near this album.
While this record isn’t nearly as cohesive as i or iii, the latter of which I will get into tomorrow, it still contains the based spirit and fearlessness that was bred out of her earlier work. In addition to the other tracks that I mentioned loving, “Confianza” is a short but brutal little piece of warped keyboard balladry, with Arca telling this man to, essentially, fuck her with some confidence. I’ve always enjoyed the way she portrays her sexuality on record, and this just adds a notch to that belt. Instrumentally, I am loving the way that the digital sounds succumb to more organic grand pianos at the very end, although I just wish this track was a bit more fleshed out. “Andro” ends the whole affair off with a harrowing ambience full of insect sound effects and piercing bits of noise that becomes more reminiscent of a Oneohtrix Point Never track as it moves along. It’s by far one of the most complex and impressive tracks not just on this album but of the entire KICK cycle. It’s just such a shame that amazing moments like this had to be undercut by questionable decisions and repetitiveness. While I’m all for Arca continuing to build a specific style, the failed experiments coupled with creative wheel spinning just cripples the potential of KICK ii for me. The majority of it is quite good, and I still will distinguish it as a Standout Album, but it just barely makes it there for me. The Sia song will always just be a head scratcher for me still, I thought she’d be done after that terrible movie she directed last year, but I guess not. I’m just happy Azealia Banks didn’t land on here.