Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 recordings in review

New Years Day. A time to look back over the previous year, note the highlights and lowlights, think about what should be prolonged, what should be discarded. Print and online writers publish their best-of-year lists, and once again I stand back in amazement at all of the music I didn't hear during the year. The Wire's 2007 Rewind issue includes their top 50 albums — I've heard none of them. It gets marginally better in their genre breakouts, where I have two of the Electronica albums and one reissue. On's lists, I've heard one of the top 50 albums and one of the top 20 EPs. The amount of recorded music released every year is simply staggering, and renders somewhat arbitrary these lists, which inevitably can only reflect what the authors have heard (although group efforts like The Wire and presumably have a larger pool from which to draw).

My recollections are somewhat complicated by the changing nature of recorded music, which affected my year more than I had originally realized. It used to be that I would purchase some music at a store, bring home the shiny plastic artifact, and have a physical object that I could see, feel, and variously fetishize. Now, although I still buy CDs (around a hundred last year, I think), I also initiate an exchange of some data on my bank's computer for some data on some server somewhere, with no physical artifacts in sight. Until the end of the year, I wasn't tracking download purchases, so I have to reconstruct these purchases using fields in the iTunes database.

In addition (ahem), not all of the downloads were what the RIAA would necessarily recognize as completely legal transactions. While I make a genuine effort not to download releases that are readily available, I do like to find various out of print albums, often from vinyl albums that I used to own. And occasionally I will read about a group or album, feel a bit nervous about buying something that I really know nothing about, and will download something instead of purchasing it. In these cases, I generally end up either buying the album or deleting it after one listen. But anyway, I have a hard drive littered with lots of music files, many of unknown provenance. So one resolution is to perform better tracking of new music that comes in the door.

But beyond provenance, there's the question of value here. How much of my listening time (of which there isn't as much as I'd like) should I spend with a free bootleg, and how much should I spend listening to something I have purchased? or for which I have a shiny plastic artifact? How about something downloaded legally and freely from a netlabel? I've made the distinction this year between CDs and legal downloads — all of the new music I've reviewed this year was from CD, except for one album where the artist supplied the download rather than sending me the disc — but I'm not sure this distinction is valid any more, except to the extent that the artist often puts considerable effort into the packaging, and a review should acknowledge this effort.

Anyway, I've spent some of the time off during the holidays to clean up my digital library, deleting music that doesn't need to be heard more than once, putting titles on my wish list, etc. Here are some of the albums I enjoyed a lot during the last year, more or less in the order in which they were acquired. Links are to reviews on this blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't generally review netlabel releases either. For me, reviewing is a way of communicating something about an album before someone potential drops their money on it. I do try to give some sense of how the album fits into music as a whole as well, but I figure people aren't taking any real chances with a free netlabel offering, so I should focus on the other content.