"Ride to California" (studio and acoustic versions)

by Paper Tongues

(A&M/Octone and YouTube.com)

"Musical Collage"

by K'naan + Paper Tongues (prod. by Beatnick & K-Salaam)

(www.ksalaamandbeatnick .bandcamp.com)

The greatest fake band of the past decade was Mother 13, from the sketch on Scharpling & Wurster's 2003 comedy album New Hope for the Ape-Eared. Wurster played Corey Harris, the lead singer, who called in anticipating a morning-zoo DJ interview and ended up laying bare the kind of idiotic compromises major-label rockers make in anticipation of a big hit that never, ever comes.

This year's Mother 13 is Paper Tongues, a Charlotte, North Carolina, modern-rock septet managed by American Idol's Randy Jackson. They apparently deny they're a Christian band, yet that was the whiff caught by my friend who saw them open for K'naan, the Somali rapper. Aswan North, Paper Tongues' Muppety lead singer, sort of raps on "Ride to California," but as watching both the official studio clip and acoustic radio-studio versions of "Ride" confirms, mostly he grimaces.

I still can't believe someone let them release this chorus: "I can't wait to get a ride to California/'Cause it makes sense to go to California/If Hollywood is where it's at, let's go to California/'Cause it makes sense to go California." It's so wide-eyed earnest, it's hilarious. That's partly why they signal "Christian." It's also why I find "Ride" as entertaining as I do songs that are actually good.

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Especially the acoustic version. While two bandmates sit on stools playing guitar and spelling North vocally every few lines, the singer stands up and gives it his all. He arcs backward on upward-keening notes ("Been lost! But now I'm found"). He air-scratches on the stuttered opening line ("40, 40 dollars..."). It's so out of place that it becomes weirdly touching, and it's hard not to watch again, like the old SNL sketch in which five people take turns trying the rancid milk just to make absolutely sure.

Recently, prolific remixers Beatnick & K-Salaam created, in their words, "a musical composition that contains elements of various songs from K'naan & Paper Tongues all meshed into one song"—a bunch of a cappella vocals laid over a track. Theirs is a precise description of the music that resulted: It makes no claim on the ear. "Ride to California," though, sums up Paper Tongues' entire modern-rock lineage, not as history but as farce.

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