Sounds Funny

The CMT Music Awards show last week opened with a laugh-out-loud — or at least grin-really-wide — collaboration between Taylor Swift and T-Pain (who even talks in vocoder) called "Thug Story".

If you have any idea who Swift is, it's worth a look; even better if you catch the references to not just her hit song "Love Story" but T-Pain's appearance in the SNL Digital Short "I'm on a Boat" with Andy Samberg.

Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer create those digital shorts and other material together as The Lonely Island, whose first album, Incredibad, was released in February. You probably know them from the infamous "Dick in a Box" and the laugh-out-loud — or at least... no, wait, it's laugh-out loudNatalie Portman rap. CMT's blog has a behind-the-scenes entry on the genesis of "Thug Story"; the full opening of the Music Awards show is also online, including Taylor Swift's surprise scene in the Star Trek movie.

Unread by Me

One of the several things I admire about Roger Ebert is his economy of words. No
doubt it helps that he likely spent at least his pre-fame years on strict word counts at The Sun-Times; also that his readership has become familiar with certain phrases of his which, though perfunctory, don't sound as judgmental as they might from an unknown source. He will often refer to a film as "adapted from the novel, unread by me". You have to marvel at such concise, neutral disclosure. The following books, graphic novels in the sense that the phrase has come to encompass just about any work of comics with a square binding, are as yet unread by me — but likely not for long, and I have cause to recommend each.

cover of Rod Espinoza's 'The Courageous Princess' with the title, author's name, some butterflies, and floral elements in a border surrounding the titular character in white, pink, and blue outfit with saddlebag on a warthog, against progressively fading background elements that include a dragon, a castle, and a smiling king and queen

Rod Espinosa's The Courageous Princess [ISBN 978-1-59307-719-8] was released as a softcover by Dark Horse in 2007. Espinosa is a respected adapter of literary works to manga-style comics, but this is one of his original tales. It was recommended to me by the manager of Showcase, my local comics shop, as a birthday gift for my 7-year-old cousin, and I recalled an issue of Espinosa's Alice in Wonderland that had found its way to me. Would you believe the birthday girl began reading it quietly to herself while her party was still rolling along?


A promotional photo of the artist

Yes, I shall return. But I've had an awful dry spell in posting this month, and the way things have been going lately the drought may continue (or return at any time).

The subject title today is in contrast and reference to "No Vuelvo Más", a song from one of my latest favorite singer/songwriters, Ximena Sariñana. I haven't picked up Rolling Stone regularly in some time, but I'm so glad that I came across its 4-star review of her debut album, Mediocre, last September. After visiting her website — mostly just a portal to her MySpace page — and listening to a handful of tracks, I was sold; I looked for it at some local stores, came up empty, and was gifted an MP3 download of the album around the winter holidays by a friend. [Update: I've added a photo more representative of the artist than is the album cover.]

Those of you more MySpace-savvy than I — which if my parents didn't read the blog could well be all of you — may know this (and it may vary from page to page), but until the other day I didn't realize that I could choose from more songs than the half-dozen featured in Ximena's player. Clicking on "Albums" at bottom left of the player lets you select from the original release of Mediocre, its US edition, and an EP also titled Mediocre, almost all of whose tracks are available to stream in full. I haven't linked to the US edition because the track list is the same as for the original except that two songs are missing, one of which is the jazzy standout "Sientendo Rara" — though it occurs to me belatedly, having only the MP3 version, that if you like what you hear you might want the US edition of the album for its presumably English liner notes.

Covers to the Mediocre EP and LP, respectively

Mediocre is sung entirely in Spanish, you see — Ms. Sariñana, who seems to go mostly by her first name, is Mexican — and with almost nothing to show for my one college semester of the language (taken after five years of French and right on the heels of a summer of intensive Japanese; my B was quite generous) I definitely react differently to these songs than had the lyrics been in English. I've learned to appreciate instrumental contributions moreso in recent years overall, but with the lyrics sung in a foreign language I'm certainly paying more attention to the sounds and Ximena's voice as an instrument in the mix.

That voice evokes emotion regardless of language, and in fact is nearly the only thing unifying the eclectic Mediocre, which veers from style to style — vocally and musically, the album recalls artists from Sadé to Fiona Apple to Sarah Vaughan. The title opener is a bluesy, ballsy torch song, leading into the peppy "Vida Paralelas"; "La Tina" is like trance hip-hop fronted by Basia, while "Pocas Palabras (Juan)" begins with an echoing, meandering piano and becomes a swingy piece of mostly acoustic pop, interspersed with synth and distortion, that I could imagine being sung by Carole King. Some tracks admittedly fall into that category of songs you like because you've grown to like the performer; I'm pretty sure that I heard the better tracks first and more often on MySpace, by accident or design — the latter is suggested given that the songs featured there now are winners like the catchy "Normal" and "No Vuelvo Más".

The Mediocre LP's production tricks mostly work in the songs where they're employed. Some of the EP's remixes, however, are laughably misguided; the spare original version of "Mediocre" is worthwhile, as is the new "Pajaritos", sung in English and sounding for all the world like something from She & Him, last year's Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward project.

After six months of thoroughly enjoying the ironically titled Mediocre, I'm interested in exploring like-minded Latin American artists. I sampled the group Volován, whose collaboration with Ximena on "Monitor" closes out both their album by that name and Mediocre, but didn't care for it. The comments section is but a click away should you have any suggestions.

Seat Happens

'Love of Chair' title over scene of young man in baseball cap sitting on a chair in a small room

A few years ago I was thrilled to find a DVD compilation of childhood favorite The Electric Company. I've since bequeathed it to my sister's kids, but a check of Amazon confirms that it was called The Best of the Best of 'The Electric Company'; a pair of 3-disc The Best of... sets also exist, along with a retrospective called The Electric Company's Greatest Hits & Bits, which I just added to my Amazon Wish List.

I have very fond memories of the show, from Rita Moreno's familiar shout to The Adventures of Letterman to Skip Hinnant in Fargo North, Decoder, to Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader to, of course, the strangely silent Spider-Man (more on that another time). What surprised me when I popped in the the DVD was how much I didn't remember, including the delightfully absurd soap-opera parody Love of Chair. YouTube has the very first episode up, albeit bootlegged; just when you think it's played out about two-thirds of the way through, it ends with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. Some interesting but spoilery info from the segment's Wikipedia page follows in this post's comments section.

Screencap © 1971 Children's Television Workshop.