Singer, songwriter, and keyboardist/bass player Xenia Rubinos first unleashed her inventive indie rock on a broader audience with her 2013 debut, Magic Trix. Three years later, she delivers a similarly ambitious and spunky bricolage of rock, funk, jazz, hip-hop, Caribbean rhythms, and electronics with Black Terry Cat. It was produced by longtime collaborator and drummer Marco Buccelli, whom Rubinos met while studying voice at the Berklee College of Music. The album opens with a brief prelude that prepares listeners for crisp production, infectious grooves, and a mix of organic and mechanical sounds including loops. The songwriter's elegant and agile, jazzy vocal quality is revealed over time, beginning with the relaxed R&B patter and modest scatting of "Don't Wanna Be," and perhaps cresting with her Billie Holiday-inspired delivery on "Lonely Lover," though other tunes are in the running. Lyrically, Rubinos doesn't shy away from politics and social commentary on her sophomore LP. The rapid-fire straight talk of "Mexican Chef" chronicles race and class in America's urban service industry, summarizing with "It's a party 'cross America, bachata in the back." Alongside clarinet and beats, "How Strange It Is" questions humankind's self-imposed boundaries and battles, from nations to the rat race. The fractured "See Them" switches keys, rhythms, instrumentation, and vocal style without warning for an experimental but still engaging quasi-improvisation that asks, "Where you gonna put the brown girl now, she's tearin' it up"). The fierce "Just Like I" confronts with rolling polyrhythms, electric-guitar riffs, and lyrics like "Just like I love, I kill, I kill you" and "With the same teeth, I smile, I bite you." Consistently challenging and infectious at once, Black Terry Cat is the kind of album that comes along only once in a while, where bold goes down smooth.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson