I do a lot of thinking about music. Coincidentally or not, I have a lot of friends who don’t, but get a kick out of the fact that I do. So they often ask me music-industry type questions: Where’s the rock music scene headed? How come music sucks? What’s the deal with radio? So I tell them honestly: I don’t know. In fact, nobody knows what’s happening in the music business. Before our eyes, it’s taken on a life of its own and it’s rolling and tumbling. Somewhere. Really fast.
ONLINE: iTunes sold its billionth song this year.
What I do know is that, as I type this, the topography of the music scene is changing, heaving upward, quickly. If you pay any attention at all you know that we’re in the middle of a revolution. As we wipe our hands of 2006, people are gobbling up digital downloads (free and paid, musical and visual). Artists are now able to sell themselves and their music without the aid of record companies, and bands now emerge out of nowhere — computers have replaced A&R reps — thanks to massive and immediate Web exposure.
2006 was the year the playing field finally leveled for musicians everywhere. It was also the year the death knell sounded for slow-footed major labels, as more massive restructuring took place. It was the year that a bullet ripped the heart out of music retail, when Tower Records trotted off into the sunset. It was the year the Internet stepped on the throat of music magazines and choked the life from them.
2006 was also the year that most fans began to make up their own minds about which music they dug. We read blogs, figured out how to download efficiently and guiltlessly, taste-tested podcasts, streamed commercial-free radio sites, and followed the circuitous musical routes of Pandora like Hansel and Gretel looking for gingerbread in the Black Forest — all of which meant we took more and greater control of our musical destinations and sampled a vaster variety of tuneage than ever before.
In 2006, we discovered more and better music. Look at the year-end best music lists, with their myriad scattershot entries, and see that for the first time in a long while there was little or no critical consensus, few albums that music geeks couldn’t get past. The spectrum of popular music has grown wider and more diverse and because of that there were few discernible trends — save for a more DIY style of record-making — that would pollute the music scene. In 2006, it was more a matter of what music you managed to listen to and what music stuck in your player longest. But the end result of all this excessive touting is that confused but adventuresome readers generally ended up back where they started, which is savoring heaps of new music on a smorgasbord of potential goodies. Eat ’em up, yum.
And speaking of cool
Here’s a cluster of indie rock albums that I couldn’t get past in 2006.
Burst: Origo (Relapse)
Sweden’s Burst can, unlike some of their prog-metal noise rockers, carbonize a lot of power and fury into short . . . bursts. Like lots of heavy Scandinavian rock — Opeth, In Flames, Arch Enemy, etc. — it never goes where you think it’s going and it often escorts you to places you’ve never been.