Former telenovela star Ximena Sarinana made her full-length music debut in 2008 with an album bravely titled "Mediocre." It wasn't -- it debuted at No. 1 in Sarinana's native Mexico and snared a Grammy nomination. By then, she'd been a popular actress for a decade, appearing in many films directed by her father and written by her mother. "Mediocre" presented a sort of Spanish-language Fiona Apple or Lily Allen, with a lot of midtempo chamber pop led by her slightly sad, round voice. But all the ingredients were there for a breakout.
Cue the collaborations! For her second outing -- the self-titled "Ximena Sarinana" (Warner Bros.) () -- Sarinana, 25, switches to English and connects with an intriguing variety of co-workers: Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, who produced and co-wrote two songs; Rancid's Tim Armstrong crafted elements of the breezy, steppin' single "Different"; Matt Hales (a k a Aqualung) co-wrote "Wrong Miracle." (She worked with dance diva Diplo, too, though his tracks didn't make this record.) For the new disc's one Spanish song, she pairs with her boyfriend, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from the Mars Volta. The main producer and collaborator here -- obvious in the album's bright melodies but detached delivery -- is Greg Kurstin, the buzzing half of the Bird & the Bee.
That many cooks in the kitchen is usually a recipe for disaster, so it's refreshing to hear how consistent the album is, utterly worthy of its eponymous title. The 11 near-perfect pop songs reach for numerous styles and textures without ever flying apart, held together by Sarinana's cool, confident and frequently deadpan voice, an alluring instrument even though it seems pretty limited. The music often buzzes with whistles and horns ("Different"), electro-disco sparkle (the great "Echo Park") or the crunch underneath "Wrong Miracle," a childlike but wise song about being childish. The end result is chipper, airy and sophisticated, like the liveliest Aimee Mann or the coolest Norah Jones. Nice to know the actress-to-musician journey can travel the Zooey Deschanel route as easily as the Miley Cyrus.
Or, say, Selena Gomez, another Disney actress ("Wizards of Waverly Place") turned pop starlet. Her third album, "When the Sun Goes Down" (Hollywood) (), was released last month. Her collaborators are bigger names than Sarinana's -- both Katy Perry and Britney Spears contribute songs here -- but the results are smaller, thinner, less ingratiating. Gomez, 18, tries to purr and crack her voice like a worldly adult without getting too naughty (Britney's "Whiplash" is as brazen as it gets, a lil' soundtrack for playing dress-up) but she ultimately sounds bored and rote, the album nothing if not relentlessly professional. The music is similarly personality-free, hitting the required dancefloor and teen-pop notes but not breaking a sweat.
In concert: Sarinana opens day two of Lollapalooza this weekend -- noon Saturday on the BMI stage.