In Her Battle For Self, Arca Reaches Euphoria On ‘kiCK iiiii’

In a 2017 Instagram Live, Arca took questions from viewers about her gender transition. When asked by a fan, “How do you battle dysphoria while transitioning?” She said, “I remember euphoria.” With her latest, simultaneous release of four albums, Arca grants us entry onto the roller coaster ride of her most vulnerable joys and sorrows. 

Each album—respectively titled KiCk I, KICK ii, KicK iii, kick iiii, and kiCK iiiiitakes us on an intense ride through metallic tones and synthetic vocals. Each installment is a statement about multiple states of self and the compartmentalization of personalities. The albums range from cyberpunk takes on Baroque to a formless pulsating collection of abstract sounds. kiCK iiiii, the final chapter and the focus of this review, was the icing on the cake after a full course of experimental sounds and abstract concepts. 

kiCK iiiii departs from Arca’s usual robotic tones and introduces a more organic, dreamlike, arpeggiated foundation. This allows airy spaces to be peppered with distorted percussion and sharp falsetto vocals with primarily Spanish lyrics. One of the biggest observations from critics in previous Arca releases was the lack of cohesiveness between tracks and the perceived underdevelopment of ideas. kiCK iiiii moves away from this observation with 12 tracks seeming to sync together poetically from movement to movement. 

The first track, “In the Face,” features jarring ASMR vocals that tickle the back of your brain. It serves as a palette cleanser in preparation for track two, “Pu,” setting the tone of the album. Here, a warm bell tone slowly repeats a hypnotic melody, invoking a dream-like state. “Chiquito” sustains a similar tempo but allows the melody to vary more through highs and lows. Vocals and synth tones harmonize in unison, several octaves away from each other, creating an undertone that takes up its own space. In the album, there is a repeating theme of duality between tones which vary in dissonance.

Artwork by Arca and Frederik Heyman.
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“Estrogen” is where one of the major ideas of the album is revealed. Arca is typically hidden beneath many layers of artful symbolism and an impenetrable persona. This track is a rare chance to see Arca, vulnerable and exposed. Gentle pads flow by like the air, letting tiny sounds fly freely. I’m able to speak from experience when I say, this track accurately represents the euphoric feeling achieved when your body chemistry aligns with your mind and soul after being introduced to hormones.

An exploration of this idea continues in the track “Ether,” with gentle piano tones being met by the occasional trills, putting Arca’s technical ability on display. “Amrep” changes the tone of the album into more familiar territory with harmonizing dyads phasing in and out. The song gradually builds into a fully distorted crescendo, leading to “Sanctuary” featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto. If “Estrogen” was a euphoric dream, “Sanctuary” is a full awakening. Here, wailing moans accompany Sakamoto’s spoken word poetry explaining the fate of mutants in waking life. This is the second major idea of the album, which continues for the following tracks.

The temporary euphoria of sleep and gender is interrupted by the reality of life. There is a pain infused in Arca’s voice in “Tierno and Musculos.” The congruence of body and mind is interrupted by the limitations of physical life. The dissonance between tones and voice seems to represent the feeling of gender dysphoria or the distance between euphoria and sorrow. The distance begins to grow between chords and the echoed tones are met by violent, crunchy rhythms. Even without examining the lyrics of the vocals, you can feel the development of deep longing.

“La Infinita” brings us back to a dream state similar to “Estrogen”—the gentle reverberations of the muted chords are a relief. We reach a moment of triumph over the pain and longing of existence which is punctuated by “Fire Prayer.” Flickering dulcimers and synthesizer pads increase intensity and speed like heated molecules, occasionally interrupted by clean piano rhythms and end in a gradual tapering off into silence. The final track, “Crown,” blends the album’s ideas together and marks the return of Arca’s cybernetic movement through gender and musical innovation. The album’s dreamy, spiritually awakened tone is paired with the sounds of unsheathed blades. Arca’s synthetic vocals return and we are reminded of the journey through KiCk I, KICK ii, KicK iii, and kick iiii.

If the KICK series is the story of Arca’s experience, which is where my interpretation of the collection leads me, kiCK iiiii is an origin story. It is the coronation of the robot queen and her army of adoring mutants. kiCK iiiii is a concentration into the distance between joy and pain—full of sorrow and euphoria. It’s a representation of her battle for self and identity and a reminder for us to embrace our own euphoria. The message seems to be that we can all be queens, even if we exist as mutants.

Listen to kiCK iiiii below.