On her debut album, Mediocre, young Mexican actress Ximena Sariñana showcases a genuine talent for alternative pop/rock and establishes her credentials as a singer/songwriter as well. The daughter of film director Fernando Sariñana and screenwriter Carolina Rivera, she's no stranger to the bright lights of the media spotlight. As a teenager she acted in a series of telenovelas before graduating quickly to feature films, most notably Amar Te Duele (2002), the soundtrack to which she contributed a couple songs. The standout contributor to the Amar Te Duele soundtrack, the multi-talented Mexican alternative rock singer/songwriter Natalia Lafourcade, is a good point of comparison. The two young women share similar voices and a willingness to take risks, crafting some of the most boldly eccentric music to emerge from Mexico, a country much better known for is regional traditions than its alternative music scene or its female singer/songwriters. Sariñana has also been compared to fellow piano-playing American alternative singer/songwriters such as Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor, plus Norah Jones, whose jazz-pop leanings are evident in some of the latter songs on Mediocre. While there is merit to all of these comparisons, not to mention the early work of Mexican pop superstar Julieta Venegas, Aquí (1998) in particular, Sariñana is rarely derivative on her debut album. The piano-playing alternative pop/rock female singer/songwriter style is familiar, for sure, leading to easy comparisons such as those aforementioned, yet Sariñana puts her own spin on the style, which may disappoint those expecting little more than a Spanish-language Fiona Apple or Norah Jones.
For one, Sariñana puts a lot of herself into the songs of Mediocre. It's not entirely a self-penned effort, as a variety of co-writers are credited and a couple songs are covers ("Sintiendo Rara" by Erik Couts; "Gris" by the Uruguayan rock band Loop Lascano). Still, as it should, Mediocre sounds like the work of a precocious 22-year-old daughter of well-heeled filmmakers. It helps, of course, that she had the luxury of collaborating with two of the top Latin alternative producers, Argentine producer Tweety González (of Soda Stereo fame) and Uruguayan producer Juan Campodónico (Jorge Drexler), who color her songs in various shades of alt-pop. For instance, "Mediocre" kicks the album off with high-voltage rock riffs, "La Tina" is pumped up with punchy electronica-lite beats and effects, and "No Vuelvo Más" is a pop/rocker graced with an acoustic guitar lilt and driven by an easygoing rhythm section of bass guitar and drums. Meanwhile, the two standout songs of Mediocre, "Vidas Paralelas" and "Normal," front-loaded second and third on the album, are perfectly crafted pop/rock songs that encapsulate all of the album's various shades into a blissful eight-minute span. The latter half of Mediocre, where Sariñana tends to delve into piano jazz-pop à la Norah Jones (e.g., "Un Error"), is less interesting, though it does further focus the spotlight on Ximena the singer/songwriter rather than Ximena the alt-pop up-and-comer. Wrapping up around the 50-minute mark, Mediocre is a promising debut for Sariñana, who thankfully isn't over-produced despite her first-rate production team and is given plenty of freedom to chart her own course stylistically despite her marquee name. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi