ALBUM REVIEW: Arca, KicK iii
When Björk set out to create her masterwork, Homogenic, it was an extremely meticulous process wherein she distilled all of her top creative strengths into one singular work. On a production level, the contemporary trip-hop drums and timeless string arrangements collided to form a sound that could only be described as “volcanic”. You can’t have a perfect album without a star at the center, and with the help of epic poets and inspiration from Iceland, she was able to maximize the godliness of her vocals. There were moments of complex lyricism and Bond-like intrigue provided by the orchestra as well as more clubbing and immediate tracks like “Pluto”. Most importantly, the sound from front to back was extremely consistent without compromising any of the experimentation or uniqueness that typically went into a Björk project. In the same way that Product served as a beat tape that was followed by SOPHIE’s front-facing masterpiece Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, Arca found great success with her beat tapes before revealing herself slightly with her self-titled album. As a disciple of Björk and contemporary of SOPHIE, she understands better than most working artists what it means to “be yourself”. It means to take every single minute detail learned along the way and combine these elements into a body of work that is a true and honest expression.
KiCK i and to some extent KICK ii is analogous to Björk’s Post. While incredible in its own right, the lack of sonic cohesion from start to finish is very apparent. This is the factor that makes Homogenic my favorite album of all time, and Post just a top-tier record in general. KiCK i may boast some impressive features from the likes of Rosalia, Shygirl, SOPHIE and Björk herself, but part of what sets it back for me is the lack of Arca. It’s almost like an early Blood Orange record in how it is a “producer exhibition”. Regardless, KiCK i is an A- for me, it is absolutely fucking fire in most regards. All of these contexts and comparisons lead me to my main thesis for this review, and that is: KicK iii is the greatest in the KICK Cycle without a doubt. This is because she synthesized all her greatest assets in a definitive sound that persists from start to finish, and it’s all her vocally. There’s no weird Sia sidetracking, and everything she did well on KiCK i she does better on this record. The weirdness and glitching is more intense, the beats bang harder and the rapping is in a whole other realm.
Arca is a whole-ass witch on this album, and that’s not even my creative interpretation. “Bruja” (“Witch” for non-Spanish speakers, aka me) is her strongest and most confident opener of all time. While “Nonbinary” saw her trying out a new style and mostly succeeding, “Bruja” feels like complete embodiment of the sound she is going for. For one, her flow is exceptional. I feel as though she has the advantage over the typical hip-hop artist in that she embodies the masculine stereotype of “the flexer” with lines that point towards more feminine-coded objects like black heels and beige skirts. The only artist I can think of that does this on such a level in the current landscape is Megan Thee Stallion, collab soon? She enters the track by essentially saying “The Don, The Boss, The Shit”, proclaiming off top that she is here to lord over every single corner of KicK iii over this half-rave, half-industrial skittering instrumental that concludes with her screaming out to the heavens (or Hells), ERRGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Fucking amazing.
From there, she goes into the best single from this massive album cycle, and that is “Incendio”. If you don’t like this song, you’re a pussy, I’m sorry. If we want to talk about concise and speedy flows, look no further than this track. “La niña dobla la cuchara con la mente, ni lo siente/No te avientes, ni resientas dе este flow de fuеgo ardiente...” is one of the most thoroughly addictive set of bars to incite, despite me not understanding what it means or even saying it right unless I read the lyrics. Digging deeper into those lyrics reveals even more madness, with references to bending spoons with telekinesis and setting fires. I really feel that the cover of each record greatly speaks to exactly what Arca is attempting to convey, and on this one, it’s complete overgrowth and anarchy. It’s like collecting bugs in a jar and then coming back and seeing that they made their own fucked up little colony and have gotten bigger, fit with new claws and teeth. You may be tempted to destroy the terrarium, but they anticipate that and shoot you with their new formed poisoned-stinger defense system, killing you instantly. This album is deadly, sickening madness, and I love it.
As a casual fan that’s now been converted into somewhat of a stan, this is the project I’ve been wanting to hear from her for a while. While the first two KICK’s made their fair share of concessions to a broader audience, KicK achieves the same level of likeability without giving up anything. On top of that, it’s not so weird as to be alienating, it is a perfect middle ground between totally bonkers and just pop, hitting a sweet spot that only few records this year have been able to achieve (SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE). “Señorita” might be the greatest example of this, holy shit what a song. “Bitch, I/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” is more menacing and effortlessly swagged out than most traditional rap I’ve heard this year, and that’s because Arca has an edge to her that nobody else does. She is not wearing Gucci or Balmain or Chrome Hearts, she has two heads, wings and claws and she will fucking murder you on sight, and that is scary. With a welcome assist from Machinedrum, she crafts this beat that fits her sound like a glove, cutting in and out whenever she does. “Electra Rex” is another major highlight for me, but you guys already knew that from The 100 Club. The jungle-like percussion coupled with the insane vocal gymnastics she performs makes for a song that is honestly very hard to try and critically pick apart. One part that continues to stick out to me is “Forgetting to breathe, I seethe and teethe/On the back of my throat”, and “Electra Rex knife sex”, two sets of lines that further this obsession between sex and violence that Arca lyrics always combine in the grossest and most satisfying ways.
While many tracks feel entirely new for Arca, some of them see her treading familiar territory in ways that don’t detract from the record. “Ripples”, in fact, is a wonderful addition to the tracklisting. The repetition of “ripples make ripples” definitely reminds me of wild tracks off of KiCK i like “Rip The Slit”, but this specific side of Arca is so bizarre and idiosyncratic that is just feels like another addition in this made-up, crazy side genre of which she has 100 of. The transcendent closer “Joya”, meanwhile, calls back to her more endearing side, as on Arca or even “No Queda Nada”. To end the album off in this way feels very satisfying, and definitely hints towards what is to come on the more stripped back kick iiii and kICK iiiii. “Skullqueen” reminds me of a more hyperpoppy version of her collaboration with SOPHIE on “La Chiqui'' with its out of control drums and pitched-up vocal presence. Regardless of whether old or brand new, the key to this record’s greatness is how it always stays on track. While KICK ii switches from reggaeton to classic Arca to questionable collabs, KicK iii has this fiery alchemy that persists and never lets up. Even in moments where Arca is not there or just a looped vocal presence, as on the stunning “Fiera”, there is this pummeling aura that feels very piercing and dangerous, keeping my immediate interest while also making me think. Overall, it is the supreme confidence, fierce beatwork and batshit songwriting on here that makes this one of the top ten records of 2021 without a doubt.