Play someone the opening track of KiCk i, the glitchy and thudding ‘Nonbinary’, with absolutely no context of Arca and her previous work, and see what their reaction is when you tell them this is instantly her most accessible album. It’s no understatement to say that KiCk i is more instant and easy to grasp than any of her previous work, moreso than 2017’s breakthrough self-titled album especially.
I’ll start by saying this is definitely not a bad thing, I’ve personally found some of Arca’s more ‘out there’ moments just a little difficult to fully understand. If understand is even the correct response for that music. That opening song especially is a sharply focused pop record, albeit full of avant-garde sounds and lyricism. ‘Calo’r on the other hand feels like it’s built around distant traditional stadium rock piano riffs, with each glitchy sound layered on top of it alongside her dreamiest vocal here. On a track like this there’s a sense of confidence in her own voice I’ve rarely heard before from Arca, it’s a powerful moment of the first half of the record and would be a decent entry point for anyone who’s never even heard of Arca before.
That said, there are lots of unexpected sounds and thrilling moments still to be heard here; the double run of ‘Mequetrefe’ and ‘Riquiquí’ early on in the album is a thrill. Thundering noise and screeching electronic sound give both tracks an almighty energy, the sort of songs that make you feel as exhausted by the end as I imagine Arca must feel after performing them. Everything is produced in such a precise way that pulls more from mainstream pop music than you’d expect, really. Arca certainly isn’t following any trends, but perhaps it’s a testament to how big the impact of the self-titled album was that other artists are starting to sound like the music she’s making here.
One big change that I feel gives this first entry (in what Arca plans to be a four-piece set of albums) a unique place in her discography is how collaborative it is. For an album so focused on self-identity and drawn together from Arca’s multi-faceted personality and musical style, there’s plenty of other voices and musicality heard here. Shygirl continues the glitchiness of ‘Metquetrefe’ on ‘Watch’, while Björk singing in ‘a combination of Spanish and gibberish’ on ‘Afterwards’ is certainly a joy to hear. Of the work between Arca and Björk in particular, this song sits nicely alongside songs from Vulnicura rather than the disappointing music they made together on Utopia.
Then we have SOPHIE on ‘La Chíqui’ which is the sort of song that has you worried whether your record player has started skipping, full of scratches and repeating lyrics. The final collaboration is by far my favourite track on the record, bringing together the Venuzuelan performer with Flamenco-Pop superstar Rosalía on the storming ‘KLK’. Everything aligns on this track, which feels like the perfect genre blending, country hopping, artist joining moment that the album needs to take it to the next level.
There’s plenty to find thrilling on KiCk i, enough that I’m super intrigued how this will play out over 3 more albums worth of material. But the main feeling is the joy from Arca we haven’t really heard before. It’s celebratory music of culture and personal acceptance, which for all of its craziness and obscure textures feels more approachable than ever before. I think some fans of her earlier work might find this lean into a more pristine produced pop sound off-putting, but there’s still plenty of drama and emotion here. Perhaps this is merely that initial starting point before it properly kicks off, and as that it keeps me hooked for nearly all of its 40 minute runtime.