Why you should care
Because all of us have yearned for a time machine.
Funk that smolders like summer thunder. Tender odes to the mami who’s lost her luck. The sensual lilt of a voice fluent in gravity and weightlessness. With Black Terry Cat (Anti-), the Connecticut-born, Brooklyn-based wonder Xenia Rubinos gives us 14 tracks of sophisticated soul-rock-pop. If her debut, Magic Trix, was largely experimental in tone, round two is a creative triumph that beckons a broader audience. Heavy on sexy beats and bass, it’s an ass-shaking supernova of love and rage, rooted in grief and grim truths of racial inequality.
Not to mention the fact that Black Terry Cat doubles as a portal to ecstatic experience. With Marco Buccelli, Rubinos has a master of percussion who coaxes hypnotic effects from his instruments. Shamans rely on drumming to get where they go — which is to say, other dimensions, for healing, for transformation, for divination. And Rubinos works in a neighboring vein, altering reality in the tradition of intergalactic talents like Prince and Björk.
So many of these songs, released in early June, are declarations — of intent, of power, of the ability to move in time and space. Rubinos’ lyrics ring of invocation and expansive consciousness, and her imagery glitters with galaxy: a big black star burning holes in the sea, dust in space, falling stars, the nomenclature of planets. Even when she is soundly in the ugliest of America, 2016, Rubinos dances with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Leonora Carrington, pairing ghetto with quiero, vowing that “oh with the same teeth, I smile, I bite you.”
The year’s existential dance hit, “Right?,” roars with jet engine and organ. It’s the molten core of Black Terry Cat, which was recorded as Rubinos’ father, whom she was caring for, was dying. The artist grapples with groundlessness — “When we’re gone we’ll all be dust in space / Did I get that right?” — in a conversation with someone who’s made that leap from mortal to who knows what. He’s been gone for two months, and she dreams she finally gets him on the telephone. “Never felt so much pain, wow / Wish I was a time traveler” bleeds into an incantation:
I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish I wish
Through words and sound, Rubinos wills herself into a physical that’s mystical. I urge you to see her live — she, Buccelli and collaborators translate the compositions into performances of electrifying energy. And audience engagement? All-encompassing. Sometimes it feels like Rubinos is acting out her songs as pieces of theater. Heightwise, she is not particularly imposing, but her ability to transform a room into a pulsing human dance machine is, in a word, outsize. (At the Brooklyn album-release show, the AC blew during sound check, turning that particular space into a sweat lodge of semi-naked dancers, pooled fluids and slick fros.)
On the right night, under a certain set of stars, Black Terry Cat just might be a time machine. Press play for a nondenominational ritual of redemption and release.