Adele, Cubist Blues, and Yarn/Wire with Peter Swanson 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Adele
  • Adele



XL Recordings/Columbia

File next to: Duffy, Christina Aguilera

Modern mega-divas like to throw curveballs at fans (think Beyoncé, Miley, Florence & The Machine), making it all the more maddening that Adele follows such a scripted, predictable path. She might pass for a victim of what Joni Mitchell called "star-making machinery," but for the fact that Adele manages her own calculated career with very few tweaks from external, ham-fisted Svengalis. The arrangements on Adele's third studio album 25 are of course impeccable, although the impact of session guests like Danger Mouse seems negligible. Even those half-memorable tracks that diverge slightly from the Adele program ("Send My Love," "Million Years Ago") borrow heavily from '50s and '60s audio tricks. The saddest thing is not that Billboard magazine had the audacity to call her last album the "greatest album ever made," but that millions of Adele fans believe it. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Alan Vega, Alex Chilton & Ben Vaughn
  • Alan Vega, Alex Chilton & Ben Vaughn

Alan Vega, Alex Chilton & Ben Vaughn

Cubist Blues

Light in the Attic/Munster Records

File next to: Tav Falco & Panther Burns, Suicide, Jesus and Mary Chain

One of the more unlikely musical summits in recorded history, this one-off album was made in two days in December 1994 and is finally back in print. Big Star refugee Alex Chilton was notorious for his cavalier approach, as evidenced by the tossed-off nature of albums like Bach's Bottom and Like Flies on Sherbert. Alan Vega's work with Suicide proved him as uncompromising an artist as one could conceive, while Ben Vaughn was the most singer-songwriterly of the lot. Cubist Blues succeeds at its stated goal of recording controlled chaos: Sounding as if it were captured live in an empty warehouse, the album's production aesthetic is decidedly one-note (not to mention one-take). Perhaps best described as "late-night, laid-back psychobilly," this is a timeless document of outsider artists doing their thing. — Bill Kopp

click to enlarge Yarn/Wire and Pete Swanson
  • Yarn/Wire and Pete Swanson

Yarn/Wire and Pete Swanson

Eliminated Artist

Distributed Objects

File next to: Kronos Quartet, Yellow Swans

East Coast fans of esoteric music were abuzz this fall over appearances by Yarn/Wire with electronic bad boy Pete Swanson. A chamber quartet consisting of two pianists and two percussionists, Yarn/Wire are known for collaborations with the likes of Sufjan Stevens and David Bithell. Swanson, a founder of the late, lamented Yellow Swans, has fronted one-off bands with names like Beer Damage and Punk Authority. Eliminated Artist features two 20-minute live performances that owe more to Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill than to Swanson's noisy pranks. "Corrections" finds a quiet tension between understated acoustic instruments and Swanson's electronic swirl, while the title track could serve as background music at edgier gatherings. This certainly establishes Swanson as a serious musician, but one hopes Yarn/Wire doesn't squeeze the beer-damaged punk out of him. — Loring Wirbel


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