NPR Names the Best Music of the Year (so far), Why Music Magazines Are Dying
Last week All Songs Considered invited its listeners to vote for their favorite tracks and albums of the year (s0 far).
"In the end, Animal Collective edged out every other artist for both Best Album and Best Song. Artists like Grizzly Bear, The Decemberists and Neko Case weren't far behind. One thing was clear: that 2009 has been one of the strongest years for new music in recent memory."
MP3 tracks accompany the list for Best Songs of 2009 (so far), in case you're not up to speed with what's cool.
About that last point: Did ASC mean new music or new artists? The former is redundant; you can't poll Best of 2009 (so far) using music released prior to 2009. And the latter is simply untrue. Bob Dylan, U2, Conor Oberst, Animal Collective, Neko Case, Grizzly Bear, The Decemberists–which of these is a new band? I took the remark to mean that the field is flatter, the world more fair, but I think that's kind of naive: The Internet is just as good as FM radio and MTV at promoting some bands above all others and keeping them up there for a while.
Jonah Weiner has a piece up at Slate explaining the recent deaths of Vibe and Blender and layoffs at Spin and Rolling Stone. He serves his argument in three parts: 1.) "There are fewer superstars, and the same musicians show up on every magazine cover"; 2.) "Music mags have less to offer music lovers, and music lovers need them less than ever anyway"; 3.) "Music magazines were an early version of social networking. But now there's this thing called "social networking"..."
Point no. 2 deals much more plainly on the topic of critic access (see: watermarks), with one strange deviation. Weiner writes:
"It's a valid point that the professional critic still wields an aura of authority rare in the cacophonous world of online music, but between taste-making blogs and ever-smarter music-recommendation algorithms like Apple Genius and Pandora, the critic's importance is being whittled down."
Except, that's not a valid point. It feels good, sounds good, etc., but labels don't see "us" as authoritative and readers are often able to form their opinions, thanks to leaks and album streaming, before we're able to tell them what's what. (That NPR is using its readers to determine a best-of list is a great example of this. This used to be a privilege of music critics.)
Also, smaller point: The essence of a cacophony is that you can't tell one voice from another. I really think that's happening.