When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I no longer know how to answer the question. Punk Rock is my original heart music. It is the first music I heard that defied clichés and consumerism of so much “Top 40” that I grew up with. It is through punk that I first heard the call to social justice, a call that was amplified by the explosion of rap music. Punk and rap were music from the bottom up that changed my world.
As I look at my favorite albums of the last few years, I no longer know what category to put them in. They defy labels. So many artists transcend binary definitions. Even within one album, from song-to-song, genres bend. It seems that music is changing the world again.
At the top of this list of genre-defying artists is Arca. Born in Venezuela, having attended school in the United States, and based out of Spain, Arca soars above traditional definitions of language, gender, and sexuality. But as amazing as a person as Arca is, it is her music that is enthralling.
When I first heard her new album, “KiCk i,” it only took about 15 seconds to quickly realize this was a game-changer; an album I would be listening to again and again. The opening cut, “Nonbinary” is Arca proclaiming to the world her power and beauty. She stands tall and rhetorically asks, “Who do you think I am?/ It’s not who do you think you’re dealing with, no/’Cause you’re not ‘dealing with’/There’s no deal.”
After “Nonbinary”, the following songs defy convention. These aren’t formulaic patterns of three verses, a chorus, and a bridge. Arca tears that framework apart and creates soaring soundscapes. There are songs with amazing beats that you can imagine one day enjoying on the dance floor (listen to Mequetrefe, Watch, and KLK), there are songs of raw passion, and there are songs of rich beauty.
My favorite track on the album is “Afterwards” which begins with Bjork’s distinctive voice singing in Spanish and by the end her and Arca’s voices intertwine.
For an album that so often defies language, mixing Spanish and English, and using words more as art than literature, the closing song on the album, “No Queda Nada,” includes some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard in a love song. Translated from the sung Spanish, Arca opens her heart and offers “There’s nothing left but me in you/There’s nothing left in me but you…There’s nothing left in me/That you have not touched/There is nothing left that is not yours/I only saw you/Waiting for me with that face so tender, slow/There’s nothing left in me.”
There is a whole lot in Arca. In fact, this is only the first album in a four-part series.
Perhaps in the bold confidence of her identity, she gives all of us permission to powerfully live in to our own true and full selves.