Artist: Xenia Rubinos
Album: Magic Trix
Xenia Rubinos’s debut album Magic Trix lays out its niftiest tactics quickly — many of them within the five minutes of its opening song Help. Her lilting voice, which by later in the album will suggest to me Bjork as a rowdy young NYC Latina, starts out cautiously by itself, picking its way up scales like Little Engine up a big hill: “My name is Rosa/ I live under the bridge/ I live under the tree/ I do magic tricks for money. Whoo!” A distorted organ-like electronic keyboard comes in, as do drums, both jarringly percussive and both refusing to emphasize the beats you’ve learned to expect; her voice doubled, she sings of Rosa third person (she now “will raise your dead for money”). The keyboard is replaced by a syncopated, traditionally funky bass (although the drums are still spastic punctuation), and Xenia transforms into a soul singer (“I didn’t want to end up like this way/ I was just trying to do good for myself and my two kids”). As the ingredients bounce off each other in different combinations, they change, intensify; the off-center drums get more thunderous, an organ solo sends frightening CGI-enhanced tremors through the buildings of the land, her soul singing gets more urgent, and breezy handclaps lighten things until the sheer robotic speed of them gets weird. The songs ends soft and lilting like it began, but the keyboard and drums stay softly with her, unsure if they’re ready to leave her alone again.
Ultima, the second song, has swagger; it also, at the ingredients level, introduces jubilant nonsense vocal loops, a conventional 4/4 hip-hop beat, and confident breathy Spanish rapping. Her singing portions are pitched somewhere between birdsong and cheerful lullaby. The drumming still uses unconventional timing, and late in the song there’s a buzzing electronic organ solo in 5/4 time. Hair Receding wrings darkness and drama from Help’s basic elements by programming its organ to a cathedral grandeur, and pushing Rubinos’s voice into minor keys at the very bottom of her range. Pan y Cafe makes the case that her voice is interesting enough to enjoy having it rhythmically yell at you in different rhythms over deranged marching-band percussion, which works for its 1:48 length anyway. Los Mangopaunos compresses her 15/8 rhythms, sneaky-loud percussion, and beeping multi-layer keyboards into a catchy 2:48 single, with a happy synth-flute hook and vocals like excited gossip. When You Come slows a fast record down to a mid tempo 6/8, and pares down the instrumentation a bit to treat us to multi-Rubinos vocal harmonies. And Let’s Go Out risks slowing down the organ and drums to a thudding, echoey crawl.
This is the point in the countdown where I’m looking for excuses to choose which perfectly delightful albums can’t be in the top ten. In the case of Magic Trix, I have “I can’t make out very many of the lyrics, though they seem to be interesting. And after inventing a completely new, manically fragile style of progressive-New-Wave-hip-hop-salsa-rock in her first two songs, she just keeps mining the same brand new territory. Plus she slows the music down at the end, which is hardly ever a thing I’d suggest”. If those seem like actual reasons not to give Xenia Rubinos a full try-out, you’re a harsher judge than I.
– Brian Block