The ‘Kick’ album series, the Venezuelan producer Arca has previously explained to i-D, begins with the idea of a “prenatal kick; that instance of individuation, that unmistakable moment where parents realise their baby is not under their control but has its own will to live, its own impulses that are erratic and unpredictable, separate to their own.”
Released last year, its first instalment, ‘Kick i’ – which featured the likes of Shygirl, Rosalía, Björk and the late SOPHIE – moved away from the discordant unease of her three earlier albums, and was Arca’s most accessible work yet. Often it was filled with the joy of scrawling out the destiny etched out by a society structured around binaries and fixed gender. “What a treat it is to be nonbinary, ma chérie,” Arca declared on its opener. “Tee hee, bitch”.
A year later, Arca now presents the previously announced trilogy ‘Kick ii’ (which was released last Friday, a week early), ‘Kick iii’ and ‘Kick iiii’ – along with a surprise fourth, ‘iiiii’ – to complete a giddily vast new quartet of records. Right down to the hugely varied sonic palette, these releases wilfully resist any sense of definition. While ‘i’ hopped between choral hypnotism (‘Calor’) and harshly robotic menace (‘Rip the Slit’), its successors present more distinct worlds. Opening this new collection of ‘Kick’ records, ‘ii’ draws heavily on reggaetón, before warping its rhythms with menacing washes of synthesiser, and wonky vocal manipulation.
With Arca singing largely in Spanish and reeling off the names of Venezuelan states on ‘Tiro’, it often feels rooted in the country where the producer grew up. Some moments here don’t connect – a guest appearance from Sia on ‘Born Yesterday’ for instance heads straight for the pop jugular, losing the inherent skewing-of-convention that makes Arca so intriguing.
Next in the collection, ‘iii’ goes in hardest, taking its cues from the harshest strains of club music, and beckoning in pure, confrontational chaos almost immediately. Its thumping opener ‘Bruja’ is cavernous and feral: “Hush it while I lick my bloody claws,” Arca chants, “cuddly fur, sharpened paws. Did I stutter? Hear me roar”. Though its title perhaps suggests a feel-good pop banger in the vein of Justin Timberlake (or perhaps Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello), Arca leaves them all in the dust with the gloriously filthy ‘Señorita’, promising to hock phlegmy spit into “your open hole before I cum in it”.
Underpinned by a cavernous trap beat that makes way for syncopated percussion, ‘Electra Rex’ warps two Greek mythological tragedies, Electra and Oediphus Rex. Both myths formed the basis for the Freudian theory that children compete with their same-sex parent in order to possess the other – but on ‘iii’ Arca does away with the psychosexual binaries. As she puts it in an accompanying statement: “I am the first to propose a nonbinary psychosexual narrative to avoid falling into the same generational tragic blind spots”.
Comparatively, ‘iiii’ feels much softer, drenched in futuristic hues of pink and peppered with a handful of well-matched guest appearances. ‘Queer’’s mean-sounding drums are dampened down to sound eery and slightly distant, like they’re echoing out of a basement club’s ajar door – a dance track hidden away in the shadows. Here, Arca is joined by Planningtorock, who brings their trademark pitch-shifted vocal manipulation to this amorphous celebration of queer strength in the face of trauma. “I got tears, but tears of fire,” Planningtorock sings.
As ‘iiii’ winds through the magical orchestral spirals of ‘Esana ‘ (featuring film score composer and cellist Oliver Coates), ‘Xenomorphgirl’s muffled skitter and the busted music-box of ‘Whoresong’ Arca details a spiritual worldview which seems to centre this whole record – the idea that, within queer people lives a kind of alien with the ability to heal and morph beyond the rigid and binary definitions of cis-normativeness. “Remember the post-human celestial sparkle,” Garbage‘s Shirley Manson intones on the spacey ‘Alien’, “a mutant faith, an identity faith, or perhaps nothing but an abstract construct”.
Wrapping up this overwhelmingly vast collection ‘iiiii’ floats up into the clouds – often pairing sparse plunks of piano with haunting choral vocals and snippets of ethereal sound design. Of all ‘Kick’s instalments, this one is the most meandering, focused on conjuring up an atmosphere, and living within it. Squalling and eerie, its highlight comes in the shape of ‘Sanctuary’ – a strange, chiming collaboration with the legendary Japanese composer, pianist and singer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Towards the end of ‘iiii’, ‘Woman I’ve Found’ ties ‘Kick’s message up neatly. “I’ve been walking so long,” Arca says through stuttering manipulation, “the first time I felt the sun on my skin, it is my own now”. An ambitious collection of records about escaping definition, both musically and personally, this is richly varied proof of the producer’s vast talents.
Release dates: November 30 (‘Kick ii’) and December 3 (‘Kick iii’, Kick iiii’ and ‘Kick iiiii’)
Release label: XL Recordings