By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Coldplay's X&Y is the ultimate iPod album, that rare record meant to be enjoyed privately, a soundtrack to young professionals' situational angst about job downsizings, romantic commitment hesitations, and Joshua Tree-reminiscent spiritual neediness.
Dear Misters Christgau and Eddy: So I was navel-gazing the genre mix of my iTunes library when I received your email asking about 2005's "Best Albums." While waiting for Prince's "Te Amo Corazon" to finish downloading, I kept wonderingwhat is this "album" thing you keep referring to? Waitnever mind. My download finished. Hmmfile that under "Latin Pop" or "Lite R&B"?
Yonkers, New York
You can't help but love Aphex Twin for his little joke on all the mp3 stealers. The records in his covert collection of vinyl-only singles are named after computer viruses. My favorite: type the name of tracks "Pw.steal.LdPinch.d" or "Backdoor.berbew.Q" in Google and try to rip it.
Brooklyn, New York
As someone who reviews loudspeakers for a living I have an obligation to use the highest-quality sources possible. I use my universal disc player and two turntables more than my iPod.
The only way to achieve true sonic satisfaction is to dump all that nasty SS (Solid State) gear infecting your ears and replace it with some quality NOS (New Old Stock) tube-based equipment. Good 6SN7 based rigs can be had for a mere grand or two, tubes from Ken Rad, Telefunken, Sylvania, RCA, and TungSol transporting you to an era when music and its reproduction meant quality and craftsmanship, not download times, remembering your Soulseek login, and ringtones. If you really wanna spill for the ultimate, consider Solovox speakers (Germany), Shindo electronics (Japan), and a Kuzma turntable (Czech). Then melt that freaking iPod and praise the Lord!
Ringtones are music and not just sound: if done right, you want to hear them again. I've seen it on the subway, too: kids clicking through ringtones because it makes them happy.
Brooklyn, New York
I did not vote for Arular, but I liked it enough. I downloaded the ringtone version of "Fire Fire" but http://www.miauk.com/ringtones.html sounds like a jackin version of Super Mario Cart. Why can't the ring tone be the sound of her hair in the wind?
Podcasts: the free and easy way to share your favorite songs with the public all grouped together in one large, clumsy mp3 file! Thanks technology!
The cure for the common r&b jones is satellite radio, where Raheem DeVaughn, Anthony Hamilton, and Leela James are in regular rotation, singing, you know, quality songs, and leaving Ashanti to rule over the seventh level of hell, otherwise known as terrestrial radio.
Yonkers, New York
Since I'm living mostly in the sticks these days, satellite radio rocks my ride, although as a costumer it annoys me that Sirius programs songs in rotation as numbingly heavy as broadcast radioespecially on its new country and hip-hop channels. And since it's not broadcast, Eliot Spitzer's chivalrous anti-payola crusade can't help me.
Saugerties, New York
In a weird way, big radio companies like Clear Channel may be more primed for a comeback than the rest of the music business. After all, terrestrial radio has always been free. With fewer ads, digital sound, and better programming, radio could be a category killer. All it needs to do is make the Top 40 the Top 40,000.
A serious take on what "Stroke of Genius" jokingly conjectured, "Since U Been Gone" leaves mash-ups feeling out-outrageoused by the material they've come to cannibalize.
Jersey City, New Jersey
I treasure the physical properties of collecting music, the tangible benefits of running my fingers and eyes across stacks of CDs (and record albums, and 45s) and stumbling upon an old and forgotten friend.
If somebody sends me a CD or CD-R, it works on my schedule; if somebody sends me an MP3, I work on its schedule. As some Internetter wrote this year, people aren't made to feel like dinosaurs for, say, not using an electric toothbrush. And sorry, but there's no difference. (On the other hand, as of last year, I do use an electric toothbrush. At home, anyway. At work, I use a manual.)
Sunnyside, New York
I spent way more time this year downloading out-of-print records on the Internet than browsing the bins at my local record emporium. Almost all of my (non-vinyl) listening was done via my computer or my iPod, while my once-state-of-the-art three-disc CD player with dubbing capability basically just gathered dust.
Los Angeles, California
For someone like me, who grew up with the vinyl album as the king of music dissemination, it gets harder every year to come up with a list like this. The internet and the iPod have reduced the status of the album-as-album to virtually nil. It seems like albums have become less the latest statement by a particular artist and more just fodder for the never-quite-perfect 24/7 radio station I'm continually tinkering with.
The most significant change for me in 2005 was how I found and listened to new music. Now that, for me at least, the days of being pitched and wooed by the publicity departments of major and indie labels is mostly over and the old filters of print and alternative commercial radio no longer are the critical resource of discovery, I find myself using the internet and internet radio (note: not digital pay radio) to listen to quality music shows like Nic "Morning Becomes Eclectic" Harcourt on LA's KCRW and Tom Robinson's mix of all sounds adults might enjoy on BBC 6 in podcast form played on my schedule. I still read reviews. But the most challenging and engaging new resources are the music blogs of print journalists like Sasha Frere-Jones and the self righteous rants of very opinionated mostly young critics on web music zines like Pitchfork and literary sites like Salon. The challenge is to make myself aware of the bias of these new critics and how they swarm like bees in heat over the newest music that fits their aural bias.
To me, downloading just seems more controlled. I get the idea it doesn't challenge assumptions like twirling a radio dial or rifling through record bins can challenge assumptions. It tends to reaffirm what you already think you know. But on the other hand, mp3s also have the potential to put a far wider variety of music at a far wider variety of critics' fingertips, which is undoubtedly a good thing. And I'm sure there are people who shuffle through the thousands of websites on myspace or CDbaby and listen to random unknown bands they've never heard of. And maybe more people do that now than the people who used to (or still) shuffle through used LP bins, which people obviously had their own assumptions about what they might like. I wonder how many critics now do the shuffle-through-myspace thing. For all I know, it might be the future. Honestly, if I wasn't so bombarded with promos, I probably would. It sounds fun.
Sunnyside, New York
The Internet's promise of speed and synergy once again delivered. Bloggers broke bands. Lady Sovereign rose from myspace phenom to Def Jam signee in the span of a year. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, a mediocre rock ensemble with a webpage, became the biggest new indie band of '05, mostly 'cause two dudes on the Pitchfork staffboard thought they sounded good. Shit, man, last month I saw Diplo DJ a baile funk set at a Parisian club called Favela Chic, just after some French rappers gave me their remix album, which was chopped and screwed by a Swedish DJ. When did Arular come out, again? 1957?
Brooklyn, New York
M.I.A. was a flop for a major label. No one has ever spun Annie at a high school dance. Hot 97 would play Cowboy Troy before they play grime. How are blogs tastemakers again?
Before everyone slobbers about how this was the year of the blog and how it's going to change everything in the scribe world, a Pew Study reveals that 27 percent of Net users read blogs and 1 percent of users post daily. What's more, even Gawker's revealed that blogs aren't a place to make a living now. How's that for a brave new world?
Best NYC transit strike by-product: Finally taking off the iPod long enough to get to know co-workers and neighbors during our multi-houred interborough schleps. The sundry lawyers, housewives, administrators I walked/drove with, however, made me feel like I was on human random shuffle.
Brooklyn, New York
So this was the year iPods took over. After overpaying for mine, something happened. I started to care more about consuming and organizing music than listening to it. It wasn't just the new compulsion to walk around with access to six Tom Petty albums when six songs would do, it was that I started to listen to 30 second song-bites instead of songs. I'd dial up a song, prove to myself that I could listen to it right now and move on to the next one. Then my iPod's battery died and I went back to my Discman. Guess what? Full songs are pretty good. Albums aren't bad either! And if I lost the ability to perfectly soundtrack my walk to the bank, I gained a renewed appreciation for something that takes a little time to sink in.