“My name is Rosa,” begins Xenia Rubinos’s debut, Magic Trix, just out on Ba Da Bing. The a cappella line, about a bridge-dwelling sorceress for hire, has the crackle of old-time radio. And then convention flies out the window. Much like a Cubist, the Brooklynite, who works primarily in a longtime duo with drummer Marco Buccelli, takes foundational elements and skews them into surprising distortions, exploring sound as sound and expanding our sense of what music is. Traditions—punk, electronic, Cuban and Puerto Rican, pop—are evident, but they function as sonic Legos.
Sometimes Rubinos sings against loops of her own vocal abstractions; sometimes the organ partners with those surrealist syllables beat for beat. Repetition-heavy compositions of funky bass; smashing, crashing, Animal-aggro drums; warm organs; sudden pauses; and the primary instrument—Rubinos’s voice—ascend into fetching noise towers and tumble, again and again, stretching the possibilities of notes and words like Gumby men. The resulting territory is as delightful as it is perplexing.
On the call-and-response of “Pan y Cafe,” the joy is bombastic and shouty; “Los Mangopaunos” dreams up a heritage for the mice who inhabited Rubinos’s Gowanus apartment. But a current of gravity underpins the daring experimentation and danceable exuberance. In “Cherry Tree,” Rubinos juxtaposes bright images of fecundity against an atmosphere of alternating wistfulness, weariness and defeat. Her band’s brand of upbeat suggests they’ve encountered darkness, and if not vanquished it, at least survived to play another day.—Kate Crane