In this, the return leg of the Blind Taste Test, Matt Paul gives James Spearing an album he’s never heard. James’ task, to listen and review after only one listen. Here goes…
I have something good for you. Xenia Rubinos.
Her debut is full of fun. It bounces around with choppy beats that flirt with funk, and keeps you guessing. Her voice can be percussive, but also fluid and smoky. Throughout it feels inclusive. Rubinos opts to embrace all kinds of sounds, feelings and tones and chucks it all together in a way that can feel messy, but also spontaneous and genuine. The way it is recorded and produced makes me feel like a bystander for an impromptu show.
So with your eclectic taste and appreciation of the funkier side of life, I think you’re the right Bastard to take this on. Enjoy.
I’ve fixated on the word “funk” that you used Matt, so this is very much where my level of expectation lies. However I’m still keeping an open mind.
This is good because within a few seconds of opener, ‘Help’, I’m immediately thrown off course. This is a totally unique sound. For want of a much better word, it’s different. The guitar hook is great and I like the scattered and broken drums and vocals. The song structure is certainly unconventional. The instrumentation is conventional, but the noises they are making are not. It’s wonderful to hear them being used this way. This is nothing like what I expected and it’s a promising start.
The next track, ‘Ultima’, starts along similar lines, until the Spanish vocals come in and we get a less choppy groove to the song. The way she continues to use rhythms to great effect – including the spaces between the beats – is great. And this continues into “Whirlwind”, which eventually gets into a frenetic four-to-the-floor beat out of nowhere. Every turn is unexpected and exciting.
‘Hair Receding’ is next, and I’ve heard this before, loads of times, without knowing who it was. I love it when this happens. I can’t think where though, did it get radio play? Or I feel like it was used in a TV series. Again we have one simple, repeated hook, with some surprisingly heavy guitars combined with organ, and a big focus on rhythm throughout the verses. Her vocals on this make me think of Bjork when they get into the higher register. I feel like there are two choruses – one for her and one for the band. I like how they’re playing around with song structures again. The first song on this album really did set the scene. And I’m getting what you mean about it feeling live – everything seems real and performable, there’s no artifice and it sounds exactly like what it is. Which is a ridiculous thing to say. Perhaps ‘its not trying to sound what it isn’t’ makes more sense!
Having said that, ‘Cherry Tree’ is a touch more polished. No detriment to the album though, I’m still really enjoying it. So far you’ve chosen well Matt!
‘Pan Y Café’ I could best describe as Latino-Punk. No, I could do better if I thought about it, but that gets my point across in the quickest way possible. Again, big on rhythm, and again super unexpected. I want to go and eat breakfast in Spain.
The Spanish language section continues with ‘Los Mangopaunos’. My language skills don’t stretch that far, but as a fellow non-lyrics man, I don’t have to understand what she’s saying to enjoy it. It’s got a hint of the Marlena Shaw sample in The Blueboy’s ‘Remember Me’. Ging gigga ging ging ging ging g-ging. Funnily enough it also reminds me of the Nitin Sawhney album I gave you to listen to! Together they’re proving that vocals can be percussion too. There’s more of this on ‘I Like Being Alone’.
After this there’s a bit of a three-quarters-of-the-way-through-an-album-dip. But you know, plenty of albums have this so not a big deal, assuming it will pick up again at the end. Sadly it doesn’t again reach the heights of earlier in the album, although ‘Let’s Go Out’ does have glimpses.
Closer ‘Aurora De Mayo’, which like ‘Café Con Leche’ (not to be confused with ‘Pan Y Café’ – the girl likes coffee , what can I say?) has a nursery rhyme or traditional song quality to it. I noticed she did sneak some of the words to this in to ‘Pan Y Cafe’ so I wouldn’t be surprised.
So by no means a perfect album. But one I will definitely come back to, and I’m excited to hear more of her stuff. I’m listening to ‘Hair Receding’ again as I write these closing sentences. Thank you Matt, what a great introduction to this artist.
Words by James Spearing