Electronic song

In Arca’s Kick series, the electronic artist builds a whole new universe


Arca is a lot of things. She is a singer and a performer; songwriter, record producer and instrumentalist. And she excels when the different parts of her talent are one. Each of his projects is a study of the construction of the world. Like a video game director or developer, Arca – real name Alejandra Ghersi – meticulously constructs an entire universe for and from her art.

The 2020 album Kick i (pronounced “Kick One”) was Arca’s debut opus Cut universe. Now Arca is reintroducing it to us with the simultaneous release of BLOW II, kick iii and kick iii. “It’s time to come to the end,” a disembodied voice whispers over spectral moans and splices on “Doña,” the opening track of BLOW II. The soundscape is reminiscent of video games, especially the first-person combat variety: throaty tearing noises that mimic flesh-cutting blades and pulses of deep hum (the kind of noise that can occur when a character regenerates after death). The closing track “Andro” sounds like it is taken from the title screen of the arcade game Tekken. These audio bookends remind the listener that the Cut world can be intense and combative, but also liberating.

Despite the impetuous opening, BLOW II is essentially a reggaeton record. On “Tiro,” Arca pays homage to her native Venezuela, referring to herself as “Mami Reggaeton” in the track’s intro and listing the names of various Venezuelan states to an aggressive beat. “Prada” and “Rakata”, originally released as a single combined track in early November, have the same Latin flair. “Prada” is Arca’s call to arms as a trans woman (“Donde ‘tan las transformistas?“Or” Where are my transformists? “). “Rakata” is the fiery and lively cousin of the spatial vibes of “Prada”.

[see also: On Prioritise Pleasure, Self Esteem turns mainstream pop into an act of rebellion]

“Muñecas” recalls Arca’s more accessible production work, in particular the 2013 project of FKA twigs EP2. “Lethargy” hints at a more traditional pop structure with a melodic, hook-laden vocal chorus, but immediately strays from the idea with the last 30 seconds of stammering howls. It’s “Born Yesterday”, the penultimate track, which serves as the showcase of the disc, great pop moment, mainly thanks to the help of the Top 40 crooner Sia. Her expansive voice makes sense on the ballad’s spacious production – but after the backlash from her 2021 feature film Music, strongly criticized for its portrayal of autism, the presence of Sia seems incongruous in a series of discs which aims to build an inclusive world.

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If Sia’s appearance makes BLOW II the “accessible” chapter of the series, then kick iii is a stark reminder of Arca’s roughly intense craft. Presented as the club’s alternative offering, the first half of the disc is essentially impenetrable. The experience of the “Bruja” opener is solid and dense; “Skullqueen” is jagged and confused.

But around the second half of the record, the fog begins to dissipate. “Señorita” is the hip-hop antidote to kick iiithe previous darkness. He’s a provocative one-track stomper with a clear shot at Arca’s critics: “You don’t know who you think you’re dealing with?” growls Arca, on percussive electro rhythms.

kick iii is conceptually rich. The track “Electra Rex” refers to two famous psychoanalytic ideas, the Odipus and Electra complexes: the young boy who hates his father and wishes to have sex with his mother; the girl who hates her mother and wants to have sex with her father. In an Instagram post, Arca said that “Electra Rex” is “the union of the male and the female. He kills both mother and father and has sex with himself. The symbolic murder of both parents , Arca believes, makes room for trans and non-binary identities. But the song itself does not resist this grandiose tale, its brief two minutes do not stand out from the other tracks on the disc. The gap between the concept and the performance of the record makes a lot of kick iii looks like filling.

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But such a chasm is nowhere to be found in the next installment in the series. kick iii is the record that takes Arca’s identity into account in the most convincing way, both lyrical and sonorous. The sparkling and blissful euphoria of “Xenomorphgirl” portends a moving identity with constant ripples. Derived from the Greek for “strange form”, the title of the track also refers to the species of mutant in Ridley Scott’s Extraterrestrial franchise and a popular 1990 video game also called Xenomorph. The sparse piano and robotic voice on “Witch” is quietly startling, while No Bra’s Susanne Oberbeck delivers one of the guests’ most memorable performances. “This witch is so attractive,” she drawled at the start of the song, “elective and protective.”

“Alien Inside,” another reference to Scott’s franchise, stars Shirley Manson of rock band Garbage. Manson delivers a spoken monologue over throbbing guitars, reminiscent of “the first time you recognized the stranger inside / Facing abject misery”. Here, the inner alien is an enabling force, which can overcome misfortune. Through these three tracks, and kick iii as a whole, Arca reclaims the monstrous form and positions it as a path to freedom. At Arca Cut world, the monsters are not the villains of the story, but symbols of hope and change for those of trans identity.

Kick i was the initial cornerstone of a universe that Arca said was free from the limitations of conventional gender identity, and on these new installments, she expands that vision. The decision to release three full albums is questionable: Arca’s music is known to be rich but formidable and severe electronics that take time to fully digest. But Arca – ambitious and determined – achieved what she set out for herself: to create a vibrant, thrilling, fulfilling world, a world of many things.

[see also: Radiohead’s Kid A Mnesia is the natural soundtrack for an age of fear]