Following 2017’s “Arca”, on which Alejandra Ghersi found her voice, the alternately savage and serene “KiCk i” was the sound of Arca comprehensively owning it. “KiCk i” is our album of the year because, simply, no-one else makes art quite like Arca.
The noise surrounding “KiCk i” presaged what was meant to come: this, Arca’s fourth, would be the pop album. Or, at the very least, it would be a counterpoint to the head-in-a-vice-grip hiss of “@@@@@”, a 62-minute composition that landed in February. News broke ahead of “KiCk i”’s midsummer release that both Björk and Rosalía would feature on the record, sharpening expectations for. Once the full tracklist was revealed, the appearance of Shygirl and SOPHIE further quickened the heart.
Is “KiCk i” pop? Well, yes and no. No in the sense that the album’s songwriting doesn’t cleave to traditional structure, and scattered remnants of Arca’s twisted-balloon beats and whorls of manic energy still litter the path. ‘Riquiquí’ isn’t getting drivetime radio play any time soon.
Yes in the sense that pop is about confidence, authority and projecting a clearly-defined image. Arca describes her own music as a “speculation” – hedging bets on a future within reach, but still far enough away that you need to make the effort to grab it and draw it close to the present. “KiCk i” is Arca’s vision of pop, and that’s what is important. As she sings on ‘Nonbinary’, “I do what I wanna do when I wanna do it.” So here is the proof: a generational figurehead swerving between lanes of synthpop, sharp-heeled rap, torch song, reggaetón and crumpled electronics in a vehicle that could only be hers.
Where Arca’s music was once anti-melodical and dyspeptic, now it fringes rapture. ‘Time’, a fan favourite since its appearance in Arca’s DJ sets as far back as 2018, is a blissed-out ballad that could just as well appended with ‘After Time’ and seated next to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘80s staple in the slow-dance hall of fame forevermore. Another moment of grace arrives when ‘Calor’ unfolds to reveal multiple-tracked vocals, a Greek Chorus of Ghersis.
Toward the middle of the album, just when it feels like Arca is getting comfortable in the clothes of “Vespertine”-era Björk, in floats actual Björk. It was the Icelandic artist’s encouragement which led Arca to first lean into singing on 2017’s revelatory “Arca”, and here the pair combine beautifully over the swooning ‘Afterwards’.
Not long after “KiCk i” was released, PAN reissued 2013’s “&&&&&” – originally a Hippos In Tanks tape, and the point at which (alongside production credits on Kanye West’s lacerating “Yeezus”) Arca’s story truly began in the public consciousness. Putting the two releases side-by-side teases out Arca’s progression into the artist we know now. “KiCk i” still retains an imprint of that foundational tape, especially on the contorted ‘Rip The Slit’ and ‘La Chiqui’. But for the most part, the gap is chasmic; the metamorphosis complete.
The fact that the “KiCk i” can be considered even vaguely pop-adjacent is a credit to just how far Arca has come, and how much she has shown us since dropping out of a portal in the sky in the early 2010s. She has bent us toward her reality through sheer force of will. It’s impossible to guess what the follow-up will sound or look like, which is why we stay hooked – and why we can't look past Arca as the boldest and brightest star in a year of insularity and darkness.