Xenia Rubinos's Lyrics Steal the Show on 'Una Rosa'
Published Oct 18, 2021Eight years into her career, it's apparent that Xenia Rubinos prefers to wipe the proverbial slate clean before releasing her next album. Although she's worked hard at avoiding idle musical classification, her 2013 EP, Magic Trix, was nonetheless praised by lovers of angular post-rock and found her supporting indie weirdos Man Man on tour, while her 2016 debut album, Black Terry Cat, earned comparisons to Erykah Badu.
On sophomore LP Una Rosa, her first in five years, Rubinos throws a dizzying and merciless array of influences, sounds, and ideas at the canvas, often to diminishing returns. But it's the Hartford artist's tight musical acumen that frequently saves this LP from completely collapsing under its own weight. While there's some strong material here, including the rubbery English/Spanish track "Sacude," the cascading, skeletal "Worst Behavior" and the moody, sonically sleek "Si Llego", too much of Una Rosa finds Rubinos's style of first-draft experimentalism more self-serving than innovative.
With her early material pulling air-stretched beats over sturdy structures, Rubinos was able to squeak out two celebrated recordings that felt much more enduring and resourceful. But on her latest, the Berklee-trained musician ops to draw influences from a more modern (and frankly liquidated) spectrum, pouring out an oversaturated Kanye West autotune intro onto "Ay Hombre," a DJ Khaled-level uncomplicatedness on "Working All the Time" and a bleary rewrite of Bob Markey and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff" on "Who Shot Ya?" that's only rescued by its poignant subject matter.
Inspired by her immigrant great-grandmother and brimming with first-person accounts of the struggles and efforts shared by people of colour in America, much of Una Rosa's lyrical content remains refreshing, but tracks like "Don't Put Me in Red" ("Kids you put in cages, look like they could be my sons, you forget we were here, when the west was won") and the aforementioned "Working All the Time" ("You better keep me poor and busy, or I'd be a danger, the truth is I'm a threat") don't possess the same emotional resonance sonically as they do poetically, as words, rhymes and wordless laments are delivered aimlessly and without musical yearning.
Rubinos's major folly on Una Rosa seems to be her desire to push her craft forward and to challenge herself. And while that may be the main ingredient for truly groundbreaking music, she forgot to draw up a blueprint beforehand.