Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tonight We're Going to Party Like it's 1999

As I mentioned in a previous entry, today both the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears released new albums, titled Unbreakable and Blackout, respectively. MSN.com offers a free listen, but it's not really worth wasting an hour and a half of your time (I learned that the hard way).

The Backstreet Boys, in addition to developing an inexplicable fondness for the prefix "un," delivered a boring album. Each power ballad seems to be a weaker version of the one before and even the few dance tracks seem to drag.

Britney Spears' Blackout is no more memorable. Most of the songs sound like the repetitive "Gimme More," all sung in that breathy whine of hers. I will give her one thing over BSB, she does know how to laugh at herself, such as in the autobiographical "Piece of Me" with lyrics like, "I'm Mrs. Most likely to go on TV for stripping on the streets." I can't give her too much credit, as she didn't write the lyrics.

Maybe Ms. Spears should have asked advice from her former beau and the Backstreet Boys should have enlisted Justin Timberlake's help instead of JC Chasez because so far, JT seems to be winning the battle of the '90s pop stars.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I started writing for a live music blog, 52shows.com. My review of the Pipettes at the Echoplex is up now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Want Candy

I love October--pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pies, the beautiful fall weather, and candy sales galore. I know I'm supposed to be buying candy for the kids who will come around trick-or-treating, but I can never resist the urge to try whatever new combinations of flavors the candy makers will come up with each Halloween (I'm a purist for many things, but candy isn't one of them). This year, three new variations on some classics caught my attention.

The limited edition Elvis Reese's are my favorite so far. It's pretty much the same peanut butter and chocolate goodness, but with banana creme. It's like a peanut butter and banana sandwich, but better because it has chocolate. It's also a better combination than the caramel Reese's that were introduced last year.

Candy Corn Hershey's Kisses, which are only available at Target, also combine two of my favorite flavors--candy corn and chocolate. They are certainly cute and while there is a hint of candy corn, the overpowering flavor is white chocolate. One of these Kisses is more substantial that one candy corn, but I think candy corn is one treat that tastes better in its "natural" form.

Three Musketeer Mint was the most disappointing. This dark chocolate bar with a mint filling tastes very similar to a York. Don't get me wrong, it's delicious, but the only thing inherently 3 Musketeers about it is the fluffy texture. I was thinking that it would have the traditional chocolate nougat in addition to the mint, but that was not the case.

Anyone else have any particularly good or bad candy experiences this Halloween?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Backstreet's Back, Alright?

I will forever associate the Backstreet Boys with the summer of 1996. I was vacationing in Europe with my family and "Get Down" was a huge hit in pretty much every country we visited. Despite its ridiculous lyrics (especially in AJ's rap attempt), I couldn't help but dance along every time it came on. I wondered who these five guys were and why I hadn't heard of them, but gave it little thought until two years later when their US debut album, Backstreet Boys, became a huge hit. I'll admit that I bought that album (using my little sister as an excuse). I bought it mostly for sentimental value, but I actually enjoyed it. I was pretty anti manufactured pop groups at the time, but something about this group appealed to me. Maybe it was the harmonies, maybe it was the dance parties it provided the soundtrack for, maybe it was the whispered spoken interludes between many songs (but probably not). As fond as I was of the group, don't count on me waiting in line on October 30 to buy its seventh album (minus Kevin), Unbreakable. Incidentally, this is the same release date as the album for another blast from the '90s past, Britney Spears.

Unbreakable's first single, "Inconsolable" is yet another ballad, which could be the cousin of "Shape of My Heart." The harmonies aren't as strong with one less voice, but it's a perfectly acceptable song for the Backstreet Boys. I probably wouldn't have had a problem with it had it been on Backstreet Boys, but I don't want to see these guys post-marriage, post-children, post-rehab, trying to relive their glory days. I want to remember the Backstreet Boys as they were when I first saw that video on MTV in Europe and they persuaded me to get down.

You can check out "Inconsolable" here

Monday, October 15, 2007

No es Perfecta, es Miranda! mi Amor

If you’ve never heard of Miranda!, think Argentine version of the Scissor Sisters meets Mika. Ale Sergi (vocals), Juliana Gattas (vocals), Lolo Fuentes (guitar), and Nicolas Monoto Grimaldi (bass) specialize in over-the-top theatrics and electro-pop fun. El Disco de tu Corazon, Miranda!’s third full-length studio album was released on August 28 in the United States. The bright and glittery packaging of the album is hard to resist (and why I picked up the album in the first place at a music store in Buenos Aires), but the music itself ends up falling slightly short of expectations.

Nothing on this album is as addictive as the band’s biggest hit “Don,” off of the album Sin Restricciones. With its constant changes, danceable beats, and falsetto vocals, it was different from anything being produced in Argentina at the time. The problem is that when a band perfects the art of the pop song, it’s hard not to hit a plateau. Still, there are plenty of enjoyable dance tracks like the eerie “Prisionero” and the silly “Hola.” “No Me Celes” is perhaps the best song on the album, and it doesn’t even have the aid of synthesizers and sound effects, just sweet vocals and a Latin-flavored melody courtesy of la guitarra de Lolo. None of the lyrics on this album are as clever as “Don” or as provocative as “El Profe,” (also off Sin Restricciones) a song about a professor seducing a student. On “Voces,” when Ale sings “Voces adentro de mi costantemente quieren convencerme de algo que hare sin querer (voices inside of me want to convince me of something I’ll do without thinking),” it comes off as cheesy, but not in the self-aware way of previous albums, such as when the band performs telenovela theme covers.

For all these petty complaints, it’s hard not to love Miranda! After all, the title of the album translates to the album of your heart, and how can a band who wears superhero outfits, top hats, and roller skates, not find its way to your heart?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Disney Channel's Newest Original Series is Anything But

For its newest series, Wizards of Waverly Place, Disney uses its tried-and-true recipe. Familar faces from other Disney Channel shows/movies. Check. A fashionable and spunky heroine with a secret. Check. Annoying brother. Check. Check. Mean girl. Check. Dorky best friend. Check. The formula worked well in the past, but this show could have used a bit more originality to give kids a reason to watch when they could be watching Hannah Montana or Harry Potter.

Wizards of Waverly Place premiered last night at 9:30 p.m., although from now on it will air Fridays at 8:30 p.m. Alex (Selena Gomez), her older brother Justin (David Henrie), and her younger brother Max (Jake T. Austin) are three wizards in training. Before you think Hogwarts, this show is more Sabrina the Teenage Witch than Harry Potter. By day, they keep their magic a secret and attend school in New York City and by night (well, more like afternoon), their father (David DeLuise) teaches them wizardry.

In the first episode, Alex duplicates herself so she can attend a crazy 10 minute sale and not have to miss wizard class. Disney Channel has been running promos featuring this episode's major plot points all month long, which only added to the "Haven't I seen this before?" feeling. The funniest moments took place in the form of pop culture references. The sale took place at Suburban Outfitters, Max got his first wand, an eWand which doubles as an MP3 player, and the duplication spell sounds like "Edge Bono U2 sus".

If anything, this episode just leaves the viewer with questions. Are there other wizards in New York City? Why does the dad ask Alex to duplicate him at the end? Isn't he a wizard too? Is the mom a wizard? The terms for the show are not really set, although a visit to the Disney Channel website does answer some of these questions. The children are training for their wizard test, which will determine which one will keep his/her powers. There can only be one wizard per family. Their father already lost his powers to his brother, which explains why he cannot do magic himself.

As far as acting goes, it's pretty par for the course for a Disney series. Henrie is likeable as the teacher's pet older brother, but Austin has definitely not improved in the acting department since "Johnny Kapahala Back on Board." Gomez seems to be trying too hard to be the next Disney Channel starlet. Of course, I'm not the show's target audience and tweens will no doubt enjoy the crazy antics without too much questioning.

There is still time for Wizards of Waverly Place to improve. This was only the first episode. Maybe the next few won't feel so much like an edgebonoutoosus spell gone wrong.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

High School Musical: La Seleccion Es Lo Mas!

By now, everybody knows about the phenomenon that is High School Musical, which includes two movies, an ice tour, and a stage musical. Pre-pubescent Americans aren’t the only ones buying it up, the little made-for-tv musical that could is a worldwide phenomenon. In Argentina, High School Musical is so popular that Disney is creating an Argentine production of the film (until now, tweens watched a dubbed version with the songs played in their original English for their HSM fix). In order to cast the leads, Canal 13 is airing High School Musical: La Seleccion, a reality show in the tradition of You’re the One that I Want and its British predecessor How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria. A Mexican version of La Seleccion is simultaneously being aired in Mexico.

High School Musical: La Seleccion airs every Sunday night on Canal 13 in Argentina and replayed every Monday night on the Disney Channel, but episodes can be viewed worldwide on the channel’s website. Episodes are usually up by Tuesday and there is a backlog of episodes to catch up on the season. Twenty-six thousand young adults were narrowed down to 20. There are eight remaining and of those eight, four will be chosen to portray Troy, Gabriella, Ryan, and Sharpay.

Argentine reality shows (of which there are many) tend to be much more rigorous than American versions. The 20 finalists attend “escuela,” a sort of High School Musical training school. Each week culminates in a concert in front of a live studio audience. A panel of four judges the performances and the scores are then combined with a score for escuela. The two with the lowest scores go to the phone votes. Unlike You’re the One That I Want, only one person is eliminated each time, regardless of sex. Therefore, a boy can be up against a boy, a girl against a girl, or a boy against a girl (this last one is not really fair, because the boy almost always beats out the girl in the phone votes). Whoever wins the phone votes is still allowed to participate in the concerts. Unlike other reality show in which the losers go home, the kids who lose the phone vote still participate in school and are usually background dancers and singers during the concerts. Also, everybody had a chance to participate in the recording of the soundtrack (for the television show, not the movie), which is already gold in Argentina.

Last week was the final week for eliminations and the eight remaining finalists, four boys and four girls, will perform in the concerts until the end. So far, everybody who was eliminated deserved to go home. The theme of the show is “cantar, actuar, bailar” (sing, act, and dance), but of the original 20, only about six are a triple threat. This week, each contestant performed a song and the judges made comments, but did not give scores. At the end, the judges deliberated and decided which roles four of the contestants would be competing for. The other four will be decided next week. The whole episode was fairly pointless, but entertaining nonetheless.

Most of the contestants go by cutesy nicknames and the eight finalists are Fernando Dente (Fer), Walter Bruno (just Walter), Juan Macedonio (Juanchi), Gaston Vietto (he goes by Gaston, but they also call him “El Charango,” the name of an instrument which he plays), Agustina Vera (Agus), Delfina Peña (Delfi), Sofia Petros (Sofi), and Valeria Baroni (Vale).

Of the remaining male contestants, Fer has the best voice. He has a good range, consistently gives entertaining performances, and can actually dance and sing at the same time without losing his breath. He is a versatile actor who can do great comedic performances, but can also play the Romeo. The judges have not yet decided whether he will be competing for Troy or Ryan. He does have the Troy hair going on, but he is so good at being silly that I kind of hope he plays Ryan. He is the only one of the four that I think can do something with the role.

Walter is probably my favorite. I love his falsetto and his self deprecating humor (the poor kid has braces). The judges also haven’t decided which role he is going for, but if they have any sense, they will pick him for a Troy.

Juanchi is one of the fan favorites, but he is the most inconsistent of the males. He brings the house down with his rock performances, but he does not have the best vocal range. Altough he has given some weak vocal performances, he is, as the judges say, an excellent "showman". When he had to sing Mika’s “Grace Kelly,” a song that was clearly out of his range, he worked it with his energy and dance moves and the audience and judges ate it up. The judges picked him as a Ryan, which seems a little off. He is too rock ‘n’ roll and not enough musical theatre. He would make a good Chad, since he’s got that whole too cool for school thing going on, but unfortunately, they’re not auditioning for that role.

Gaston has no right still being in the competition. He has yet to sing an entire song without going out of tune. Gaston was saved twice by the fans and it’s fairly safe to say it was because of his looks. He was lucky last week because there were no more eliminations, otherwise he would have been in the bottom two again. The judges picked him as a finalist for Troy, much to everybody’s shock, but I think they did it because they know he won’t win and it will guarantee that either Walter or Fer will be Troy.

Delfi has the best voice of the girls. She looks a little too old to be Gabriella, but I was really hoping she’d get that role. The judges picked her as a finalist for Sharpay, probably because she is the only blonde and it's the role that she obviously wanted. However, this week she did some acting scenes as Sharpay and I have to say her acting abilities leave something to be desired, although she did channel her inner diva when performing her rendition of “Bop to the Top.” Sure beats Ashley Tisdale.

Agus has by far the best personality and acting skills of the girls. One of the best performances was Agus and Fer singing “Don” by Miranda! They have such great chemistry on and off stage that ideally she would play Sharpay to his Ryan. Agus does not have the most consistent voice, but at least she does not have a lot to live up to. The judges haven’t decided which role she is going for, but I kind of worry that she would lose to Delfi because everyone is convinced that she is Sharpay (probably because she is blonde). It wouldn’t be the worst thing if she played Gabriella; she gave a very sweet performance to Fer’s Troy.

The judges seem to love Sofia, but there is nothing special about her. She has a decent voice, but she does not show enough emotion when she sings and seems very stuck up. She might make a good Taylor, but she is going for the role of Gabriella.

Vale also has a decent voice, but she is boring. She always gives the most forgettable performances, plus she would have been in the bottom two last week, so she doesn’t seem to have a good shot. The judges haven’t decided who she is going against, but it hardly matters because she won't beat either Delfi or Sofi, the judges’ darlings.

The judges are one of the main reasons why the show works so well. They give constructive and detailed comments and hopefully the contestants are learning from them. The three female judges—-Soleded Pastorutti (singer), Laura Oliva (dancer/actress), and Andrea Del Boca (actress)—-are too nice. They tend to give everybody high scores, but somehow their comments are detailed enough to make up for it. Andrea is the worst, she pretty much always gives tens. She admitted in one episode that she wanted to be the nice one, but she’s not helping anyone by telling these kids that they are perfect and they don’t need to improve. The best and most under-appreciated judge is Peter “I’m sorry” Macfarlane (opera and musical theatre director), the Simon Cowell of the group. The contestants, judges, and audience members seem to hate him, but he obviously knows his stuff. He has never given anyone a ten because nobody has ever given a perfect performance. He constantly teaches musical terms to host Matias Martin, the family members of the contestants, and anybody else who cares to listen. His biggest pet peeve is singers who go out of tune (and rightly so). He also calls the “professors” out for the songs they choose, such as songs in English for students who clearly cannot pronounce a word of it or the “Grace Kelly” fiasco.

The coaches, Ricky Pashkus (theatrical director), Virginia Modica (vocal coach), Fernando Lopez Rossi (musical director), Veronica Garabello (dancing coach) are always ready to defend their choices, which often results in some pretty intense arguments. A frequent complaint by the judges is the English songs. Many Latin singers do sing in English, but these kids are just starting out. It’s hard enough for them to perform every week without the added difficulty of pronunciation. It would be one thing if every contestant had a song with the same level of difficulty every week, but the song selection seems totally random. Someone will perform a rock song, someone else a ballad, someone will sing in English, another in Spanish, some have to perform a duet, and others solo. The show would have benefited from theme nights to level the playing field, such as duet night, musical night, movie night, maybe even Queen night (they seem to really like picking Queen songs).

It's not perfect, but this is still a really well done television show that I can't get enough of.

You can watch episodes on the Canal 13 website.