Cubenx: On Your Own Again

It's telling that it was hearing Scott Walker's “On Your Own Again” on his iPod during a layover in New York from Belgium that inspired Cubenx (César Urbina) to begin recording immediately after touching down in Mexico the album that would become On Your Own Again. For his Cubenx debut album, coming as it does after a couple of InFiné EPs (2007's Glándula and 2008's Can't Throw A Stone), largely distances itself from the kind of dance-based tracks one might expect to hear from an InFiné artist and instead opts for a considerably more eclectic and panoramic assemblage of song-based pieces.

That On Your Own Again is no singularly focused collection of dance tracks is declared from the outset when “Locked” introduces the album with five instrumental minutes of shoegaze-styled euphoria and an effervescent charge led by electric guitars that alternately twang and roar. A further left turn follows in the form of “These Days,” a vocal-based exercise in melodic songcraft with roots in both synth-pop and New Wave; it's worth noting that the song is a Cubenx collaboration with Chicago musician and singer Alfredo Nogueira, who's a close associate of Telefon Tel Aviv, L'Altra, and Apparat, as “These Days” sounds very much like the kind of thing one conceivably might hear penned by any of the three outfits (as does the later “Sun Dried”). Urbina also received a helping hand from Francisco Rosas, his partner in the downtempo outfit Flight Attendants, who co-wrote “Sierra Madre” and adds guitar playing to “Sueña Con Venados.”

A sparkling example of trance-styled uplift and swing, the dreamy tech-house of “Adrift At Sea” brings the Cubenx sound closer to clubbier terrain. It's also a luscious advertisement for Urbina's arranging and production skills, plus it's decorated with a piano hook that'll play in your head long after the song's over. In some cases, the dance and pop worlds come together, as in “Lovebirds” and “Wait & See” where the strong vocal hooks and snappy, bass-prodded grooves result in enticing settings that wouldn't sound out of place on a Kompakt release by someone like Superpitcher or Matias Aguayo. In addition, there's “Grass,” a piano-based vocal ballad that in some moments sounds like a track that for whatever reason didn't make The Wall's final cut; “Noir,” an explorative instrumental moodscape; “Mist Over the Lake,” a shimmering, acoustically enhanced oasis intended to evoke the ambiance of a Mexican desert; and “Sueña con Venados” (Dreams With Deers), a dramatic, long-form instrumental meditation that's as much post-rock as anything else.

For the record, the move away from the dance floor, strictly speaking, was all very deliberate on Urbina's part as he expressedly wanted to extend his album's scope into song structures that would feature non-electronic instruments and voices. Though such an ambitious move sometimes proves to be a misstep, Urbina manages the feat impressively, with pretty much all of the tracks, regardless of genre, hitting their intended marks.

December 2011