The realm of fantasy has all the time enticed Xenia Rubinos. Ever since her exuberant 2013 debut Magic Trix, the New York singer-songwriter’s dizzying concoction of punk, hip-hop, and jazz appeared to spring from a world of infinite prospects as her storytelling carried a touch of the surreal. Although happy with her Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, her wariness about being boxed into the “Latin music” class on account of her background pushed her to invent new musical languages, and he or she finally used her work to touch upon the restrictions imposed on her. Pushed by that very same boldness of spirit, her 2016 sophomore effort Black Terry Cat extra overtly explored problems with id and race whereas persevering with to interrupt boundaries and attracting additional acclaim. Rubinos’ newest, Una Rosa, is likely to be her most fully-realized and resonant launch but – although one that also refuses to stick to musical or narrative conventions for the whole thing of its length, wandering as an alternative in an exhilarating form of liminal area.
Una Rosa doesn’t take a completely totally different path from the one Rubinos carved out on her first two data, nevertheless it most successfully interprets her modern, fluid strategy into an everlasting assertion. Right here, the playfulness that marked her debut takes the type of excessive drama as she and longtime collaborator Marco Buccelli commerce out the crunchy, abrasive sonics of her earlier albums for a extra expansive and cinematic palette that may really feel confrontational and soulful on the similar time. But it’s no shock that the songs have been really assembled in a extra spontaneous style, because it leads to a fusion of sounds that feels natural and seamless – ‘Sacude’, her invigorating tackle the Cuban rumba mode, segues into ‘Who Shot Ya?’, an AutoTuned rap referencing ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, earlier than ‘Cógelo Suave’ presents us with an absurdly infectious jazz experiment.
This template permits Rubinos to step into probably the most immersive portrait of her expertise she has delivered to this point. In an interview with Rookie courting again to 2013, on the album launch present for Magic Trix the place she was shocked by her abuela, she spoke about absorbing her household’s tradition and being impressed by the joyfulness of her grandmother, which she has strived to channel in her music ever since. Una Rosa can be not the primary album of hers to include the lullabies and hymns of her childhood. However its dreamlike theatricality renders each the recollections and disparate influences which have formed the singer’s youth in stark, vivid element, whereas its instinctiveness makes it really feel like we’re coming into an area of lively creativeness somewhat than reflection.
It opens with a couple of glances, a tender gentle following her gaze: “There she is… No, wait, there she is,” she coos, and whereas the determine stays elusive, within the liner notes Rubinos writes of Abuela Tavi, her great-grandmother, whose loss of life she blamed on herself for not voicing a morbid dream she had a couple of days earlier. Right here, she doesn’t try and conjure her spirit a lot as chase some semblance of it: the next monitor, the titular ‘Una Rosa’, is a reimagining of a tune written by Puerto Rican composer José Enrique Pedreira, whose melody haunted Rubinos for years till she was capable of establish it. It was the melody a music field lamp as soon as owned by her great-grandmother performed, the identical lamp that additionally adorns the album art work.
The remainder of the album much less straight attracts from varied locations, however the impact is simply as evocative. Whereas Rubinos has discovered thrilling methods to play with all kinds of devices since Magic Trix, together with her voice, the vocal manipulations on Una Rosa open up a brand new avenue for expression. The AutoTuned vocals on ‘Ay Hombre’, she’s mentioned, are a reference to Kanye West, however she makes use of them to showcase the astonishing vary of her voice whereas integrating extra Caribbean rhythms. Most placing of all is ‘Did My Greatest’, the place, over a sparse digital backdrop, the robotic distortion appears to drive the insufferable weight of loss right into a melody; her human voice finally takes the lead, however its shadow stays not far behind. It’s an ideal instance of how Rubinos’ presence can turn out to be a malleable drive, accentuating her vulnerability whereas additionally permitting her to talk for others, like on ‘Don’t Put Me in Purple’, the place she insists, “Ask me the place I’m going/ Don’t ask me the place I’m from/ I communicate in three languages/ You barely communicate in a single.”
Although Una Rosa is split right into a fiery A aspect and a extra introspective B aspect, one among its greatest accomplishments is that it resists clear definition, and does so with out diluting its emotional affect. Rubinos captures the sense of marvel and risk inherent in fantasy however frames it as a chaotic efficiency grounded within the blurriness of actuality and self. “What is that this voice?/ And who’s that?” she ponders on the finish of the album. For what’s her most compelling effort thus far, one which’s bookended by the identical musical motif, its lack of decision may appear to betray a touch of uncertainty; however as Rubinos has defined, “There all the time must be a message or there all the time must be this takeaway from each tune. And it’s laborious for me, as a result of it’s not so linear.” So she retains the door open, turning the sunshine on once in a while, hoping to catch a glimpse of the acquainted.