Review Summary: tripping forward
Arca has been one of the most successful auteurs of the 2010s. Responsible or at minimum involved with some of the best experimental hip-hop, R&B and art pop (some of the higher-profile production credits include Bjork, Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs and Kanye) from the decade, her solo work has also excelled. From her early EPs' flirtations with glitch hop on UNO to her later ambient pop on XL and all the deconstructed club and IDM in the middle, she's successfully pushed the boundaries of more genres than albums she's released. Each album has taken another powerful step to expressing her identity, with Xen
exploring gender as an alternate identity, Mutant
pushing at the boundaries of the body and gender all together, and her self-titled a raw look at her identity. Her latest, KiCk i
, an attempt to capture her entire identity with all its facets and contrasts, is a bit of a stumble compared to her other confident strides, but she's still going in the right direction for her illustrious career.
For the first time, she has released a major project that doesn't redefine her. The clearest ethos for KiCk i
is that this is her pop album, her attempt to capture a wider market with a more accessible version of her style. This is not a bad thing, contrary to popular belief. In fact, there was enormous potential in an Arca record that recaptured some of the enormous energy in her previous works, which had one common flaw - a very specific mood and sound, excluding many other feelings. An album that felt like a mission statement was what she needed. But this feels more like a B-sides collection - greatest hits, filtered. Many of these tracks feel like merely good versions of styles she has previously crafted to near perfection. "Nonbinary," with its bass crunches and synth stabs underlying confident lyricism, is a lightweight compared to "Ass Swung Low" or segments of Entranas
. (The latter is a great comparison piece - it balances out chaos and peace very effectively, although in a much more pessimistic fashion than Arca is attempting here.) "Calor" is striking, with a beautiful ending segment, but it often feels eclipsed by Arca
, a much more cohesive vision of the same kind of operatic performance. It doesn't help that it's followed up by a mediocre Bjork track in "Afterwards."
That's not to say that there aren't good songs on here, or any new elements. "Rip the Slit" and "Mequetrefe" both use vocal-bending techniques that are not entirely foreign to Arca but show a lot of promise and help each track gain an extra edge. Voices in general are more diverse than on almost any of her other projects, with rapid shifting vocals cutting through and over the more theatrical ones, and the various guest features helping to present a wider range of tones. And none of these features (besides the previously mentioned "Afterwards") are disappointing - each on some of the best songs of the album. If you were excited for Arca feat. Sophie, stay excited, "La Chiqui" absolutely lives up to the hype. Solo tracks are good too - "Time" is perhaps a hint into her next path, with a transcendent, almost trance-inspired sound, and "Machote" is one of the catchiest songs she's ever written. Hooks are the main upgrade on KiCk i
, with a few songs on here ("KLK" and "Watch" especially) that might actually work on a dancefloor in the right context.
Context, unfortunately, is not this album's strong suit. The main problem it faces is trying to successfully combine her new, slower palate with the tense, rapid-fire elements she's known for. To anyone who has been listening to her discography for long, this is clearly something that will be difficult for anyone to pull off. And to her credit, she tries. As noted, she does sometimes succeed on individual songs. The problem is the tracklist. "Calor" and "Afterwards" don't fit in at all between "Riquiqui" and "Watch," even with the stuttering drums she uses to attempt to align them. "Time" and its hopeful heartbeat is a weird pick right after "Nonbinary" and its dark acceleration, especially when there are plenty of other spots either of them would have fit fine instead. The whole first half is full of these kinds of poor sequencing decisions. Because of problems like these, I wouldn't recommend it for first-time Arca listeners. She has enough excellence in her discography to justify trying something else instead, perhaps Mutant
for electronica fans, Stretch 1
for hip-hop fans, etc. Long-time supporters will probably be trying this whatever I say, and for them, this is definitely worth it for the highlights if nothing else. It's certainly interesting to compare it to her other works, and showcases her enormous potential for solo pop sensibilities. Get excited for her other projects that are already in construction as we speak - this is the first KiCk of a 4-part series. Based on the success of this first edition, it's very possible that one of them will be her best album yet.