by Blanca Méndez
Brooklyn-based Xenia Rubinos has an endlessly intriguing voice that is at once nostalgic and refreshing. It has a familiar warmth, like returning to your childhood home after years of absence, and a mesmerizing theatrical range that is best suited for the stage. Rubinos herself has said that her recorded music does not quite measure up to her live performances, and, after listening to Elephant Songs, one understands that the kind of drama that is on the EP is probably best experienced live and that Elephant Songs is only a small taste of Rubinos’ arresting vocal talent.
The EP begins quietly with the minimalistic “Elephant,” an elegant lament with restrained percussion beneath soft layers of vocals. “Pan y Cafe” is a short, boisterous track with mischievous wordplay in which the “pan y cafe” starts to sound like “panica fe” as the song becomes increasingly raucous. The verses are spoken by Rubinos and the chorus is a manic back and forth between Rubinos and her drummer, Marco Buccelli, that is charmingly unruly. “Ultima” begins with overlapping handclaps and murmurs that feels like those film sequences in which the protagonist is unable to focus in the middle of a dizzying crowd, then it goes into an upbeat, cheery melody that then slows down before going back to the melody and ending in a frantic repetition of the word “ultima.” At first it seems disjointed, but these different parts of the song are like the different movements in a symphony, they can stand on their own but are better together, driving a single plot.
Perhaps the most charismatic song on the EP is the playful and rambunctious “Los Mangopaunos.” With its onomatopoeic pots and pans rhythm section, it sounds like it belongs on one of those quirky children’s TV shows or like something the weird kids would sing on the playground. More than anything, and maybe this is just me, it’s what I imagine a Sandra Cisneros song would sound like. But its sound is one that is so involved that it cannot be categorized or really properly described. Rubinos claims Cuban and Puerto Rican children’s songs and rhymes, gyil music of Ghana, and José Martí as influences, and it is on this song that this range of inspiration is most apparent.
Each song on the EP is uniquely captivating and a promising sign for Rubinos’ upcoming full-length album. But because it is only four tracks long, Elephant Songs feels abrupt and incomplete, which is a shame because there’s a fascinating narrative there that cannot properly develop in just over 15 minutes. I guess we’ll have to wait for the album for the full story.