An album’s artwork can be a portal into a record’s world or to nab Fred R. Barnard’s well coined proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In the case Arca’s fourth LP ‘KiCk i’ we’re faced with a striking image, that of our protagonist Arca (aka electronic producer/turned avant-pop artist, Alejandra Ghersi), as a mechanized warrior nymph, someone who’s fused their body with cyborg-like machinery, whilst wearing a virgin-white bikini, with her hair in bunches. This is the first of many dichotomies; bare, fleshy skin encased in robotic armoury, the notion of extreme power and extreme vulnerability. Delving deeper, there’s an androgyny to Arca’s combatant pose; the femininity of her cute hair-style with the supposed masculinity of all the weapons of war. Given Ghersi has documented her transition from a gay man to a non-binary individual that identifies as female, via Instagram, this pushes the narrative further that ‘KiCk i’ is a marriage of opposites that make for a jarring, yet perfect union.
The boundary blurring visionary has long been the go-to person to supply a raw edge to artists looking to push the production of their records to the next level, with Bjork, Kanye West, FKA Twigs and Frank Ocean calling upon her expertise. For LP4, when speaking to Garage Magazine, Ghersi was very clear with her objective for ‘KiCk i’; to demolish barriers “there was a clear intention [on the album] to allow every self to express itself. Not to decide how much airtime each self would get, but to allow for modulation between them in a spontaneous way. There is no such thing as normal.” This statement shines a light on the LP’s penchant to jump from ethereal pockets of calm, to chaotic barrages of digital noise and almost everything in-between. To live in different worlds comes naturally to Arca it would seem, be it sonically or gender or even geographically; the aural innovator openly discusses her upbringing in her native Caracas, Venezuela, as well as her years in Darien, Connecticut and how those locations would often splinter and merge, leaving her feeling isolated in some cases but grounded in others.
For an album of diverse styles, it’s won’t come as a surprise that as well as soothing and terrorizing, ‘KiCk i’ thematically lurches from hyper-sexualised to something heavenly and pure. Opening with the minimal clatter of ‘Non Binary’, a marker is put down for the former, as Ghersi talks about “French-tips wrapped around a dick/do you want a taste?” while quickly rapping over broken beats and an industrial clank. After the distorted drum ‘n’ bass-like opener, following track ‘Time’ switches to the other end of Arca’s sonic spectrum; with a celestial hue and toy-town throbs, the singer adopts an angelic vocal delivery as she reflects “it’s time to let it out”. After these two tracks, all bets are off the table; ‘Mequetrefe’ has Ghersi lean on her Venezuelan heritage with a Spanish sung vocal over fragmenting electronics that splinter and pixelate at random. ‘Watch’ featuring Shygirl is a cyber rave banger while ‘Machote’ straddles the gap between serenity and chaos; an orchestral swoon is joined by crunching beats and robotic insect noises. ‘KLK’ takes you back to the club, with Rosalia lending vocals to the ever-morphing landscape of abrasive sirens and booming bass. Aphex Twin sounds like he’s been held hostage by Arca on the experimental, malfunctioning maelstrom of ‘La Chiqui’, which features another guest artist in the guise of Sophie. At the album’s core, things get a tad freaky as you’re ball gagged and chained up in a sex dungeon of electronica, as the provocative ‘Rip The Slit’, goes all safe-word bondage on us. It’s not all latex and whips though; ‘Afterwards’ transports you to an icy, frigid landscape where subtle glitches combine with celestial burbles, as Bjork’s otherworldly vocals expand like a pair of giant inflating lungs. After being chewed up and spanked into submission by most of the 11 tracks prior, ‘KiCk i’ is closed off by ‘No Queda Nada’; a serene, hymnal flutter through evangelical electronics and subtle, crackling nuances. A calming vocal acts like a comforting stroke to the forehead, after the unpredictable bedlam that comes before it.
Arca has created a world of diversity, inclusivity and acceptance by combining a myriad of different styles; it’s just a shame that our actual world isn’t as welcoming or unified as ‘KiCk i’.
review by Adam Williams