Una Rosa

Xenia Rubinos

(LP - Anti- #87713)

Review by Marcy Donelson

A musician who has defied easy description or anything approaching pastiche from the beginning of her recording career, even when taking on a cover, Xenia Rubinos expands her sound even more on her elaborate third album, Una Rosa. Arriving five years after 2016's Black Terry Cat, it relies more on electronic elements, Caribbean rhythms including rhumba, and spoken and Spanish-language lyrics, just for starters. Perhaps its most notable update from prior releases is a more spontaneous recording strategy (with help from longtime producer/collaborator Marco Buccelli) that built songs from experimentation and one-take tracking. The results are cinematic, not only for the album's decadent, sometimes chaotic arrangements and theatrical performances but for its structure: the track list is bookended by two sparse, tolling tracks meant to represent clock tower bells opening and closing "a portal" ("ice princess" and "FIN"). Una Rosa was named for a song by José Enrique Pedreira that Rubinos remembers from her bilingual, multicultural childhood in Connecticut; she covers it as the first proper song here. In her version, Rubinos begins to hum along to the wistful tune following an instrumental flute, keyboard, and clave verse. Eventually, rumbling synth bass and organ-like timbres join the flute's main melody, resulting in a sound that's part melancholy '70s Morricone score and part low-budget sci-fi. Next up, the distorted alt-R&B of the tragic "Ay Hombre" retains some of the previous song's synthesized organ and bass timbres while adding more explicit Caribbean rhythms and passionate, artily Auto-Tuned vocals. The stylized Auto-Tune resurfaces on "Who Shot Ya?," a stagy rap that makes musical reference to "I Shot the Sheriff." One of the album's catchier and more memorable entries, it's equally well-suited for apartment headphones or packed dancefloors. While Una Rosa is frequently nostalgic, it's also celebratory and defiant at times, with more confrontational tracks taking on sociopolitical peeves. Among the latter type is the anti-capitalist "Working All the Time," a slinky hip-hop/indie electronic outing, and "Don't Put Me in Red," an atmospheric highlight that begs front-of-house lighting engineers to pick a different color for her than stereotypical "Latina lighting." With other songs featuring Psycho-like slashing string effects and whirring bass echo ("Darkest Hour"), robotic vocal distortion ("Did My Best"), and spoken-word broadcast recordings ("Cógelo Suave"), Una Rosa has a kitchen-sink, blown-out-speaker quality to it that will alternately alienate or excite.