Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Arca KicK iii

XL
2021
XL
2021

When Arca first revealed her plans to release a whole series of Kick albums after last year’s KiCk i, it seemed like the sort of ambitious project that an artist announces and never follows through on. If it weren’t for the pandemic and the ensuing forced downtime, I’m not entirely confident that we would have actually gotten every other album in the Kick series — Arca has proved herself too restless to stay in one headspace for that long. But here we are: Four new albums are being released this week, wrapping up the Kick cycle in ceremonious fashion. It’s a lot of music — just about two-and-a-half hours, all told — but each Kick is distinct and rewarding in its own way.

The first Kick was Arca at her most accessible. KiCk i was an unabashed pop album — sleek and refined and easily digestible. The Kicks as a whole are not that, at least not all of the time anyway. These albums are sprawling and experimentally-minded and can be trying, especially if you’re trying to mainline them all in one go. Given how they’re being released in one fell swoop, they probably could have benefitted from a little editing here and there. But the takeaway is mostly just one of admiration — that an artist could cobble together this much worthwhile music from their past few years of material. Occasionally the collection of songs can feel like one huge data dump, but who am I to complain about too much music from an artist so consistently interesting as Arca?

Taken as a whole or parsed out into component parts, so much of the Kick project is staggering. When Arca first announced the series, she described the albums as “a rallying cry to kick against categorization,” and over the course of the different Kicks, Arca refuses to be settle down. There is something for anyone who has been a fan of the Venezuelan producer’s many different forms over the years: clattering soundscapes and futuristic club bangers, tender syrupy ballads and reverent vocal-forward hymns. If you’ve never listened to Arca at all, listening to all the Kicks would provide a sweeping and relatively accurate summation of everything that she’s accomplished so far.

My favorite — and the one we’re naming Album Of The Week — is KicK iii, the most immediately invigorating of the bunch. I prefer Arca when she’s in her confrontational zone, and KicK iii is all confrontation.

(Some capsule reviews of the others: ii, which is out now, probably holds together the best as a front-to-back album experience — there’s variety between spacey electronics and bangers (“Lethargy,” “Prada / Rakata”) and a real arc to the tracklist. iiii is the most adventurous, mesmerizing and porous — check out the xx-adjacent “Boquifloja.” There’s also a spoken word pump-up courtesy of Garbage’s Shirley Manson and a hypnotic guest appearance from New York experimentalist No Bra. iiiii is beautiful in the same way her 2017 self-titled album was — lots of piano and muffled choral runs, plus there’s a track with the legend Ryuichi Sakamoto. It’s an appropriate, meditative conclusion to the project as a whole.)

But KicK iii is the one that really goes for broke. From its opening moments, it’s basically pure chaos all the way through. As an entire listening experience, it might be the most punishing of the Kicks — the final two tracks are a (much needed) comedown, but before that it’s 30 straight minutes of teeth-chattering beats and tight, pulsing rhythms. It’s the Kick that I keep returning to the most. Close your eyes at any given point during iii and you can basically feel yourself sink away into the club. It’s transportive music, reveling in the dance floors that Arca grew up on. Arca is cocky and assured in that sort of space. “Look at me,” she repeats on early single “Incendio,” and KicK iii sounds like a dare to do just that.

By the end of opener “Bruja,” she’s already panting and out of breath after spending four minutes building up and deconstructing a demonically twisted dance track. It’s followed by banger after banger: the stuttering, mostly instrumental pairing of “Morbo” and “Fiera”; the gliding and pretty “Skullqueen,” which despite its relative chill is still punctuated by gunshots. KicK iii reaches its fever pitch in the middle, starting with “Electra Rex,” on which Arca gives the listener permission to go wild (“Let your hips go to the beat”) and coyly asks “Should I blow?” before blowing up. That next stretch of tracks is simply deranged, culminating in the anthemic “Señorita,” which has Arca hocking loogies and shit-talking and exuding pure confidence.

“For me KicK iii is the most incendiary entry in the kick universe,” Arca wrote when announcing this third volume. “The album is a portal directly into the more manic, violently euphoric and aggressively psychedelic sound palettes in the series.” KicK iii sounds unhinged in the best way possible. It’s music to feel indestructible to, a mode that Arca does like almost no other. Over the past decade, Arca has built herself up to be simultaneously sensitive and intimidating — there’s plenty of vulnerability displayed throughout the rest of these albums, but iii surrounds her with bulletproof glass. And hey, if you’re not feeling it? There are more Kicks where that came from.

KicK iii is out now via XL Recordings.

Other albums of note out this week:
• The rest of Arca’s Kick series
• Gas’ Der Lange Marsch
• Elder & Kadavar’s ELDOVAR: A Story Of Darkness & Light
• Tom Morello’s The Atlas Underground Flood
• Marissa Paternoster’s Peace Meter
• Rid Of Me’s Traveling
• Nils Frahm’s Old Friends New Friends
• Samia’s Before The Baby
• Failure’s Wild Type Droid
• Pearly Gate Music’s Mainly Gestalt Pornography
• No Rome’s It’s All Smiles
• In A Daydream’s This Side Of Purgatory
• Polo G’s Hall Of Fame 2.0
• Travis’ The Invisible Band 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
• Diet Cig’s Diet Cig Live At Studio Two Three
• Beauty Pill’s Instant Night EP

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