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Best of 2012: Music December 23, 2012

Posted by David Card in Digital Home & Personal Tech, Media.
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I may be an old geezer – early GenX, please, not late Boomer – but I listen to and actually purchase new music. This year I bought about 35 albums, a little fewer than last year, but only 4 from the back catalog. All downloads, 99 percent from Amazon. Most of my listening is from stored files on my Zunephone or a docked iPod.

I subscribe to Rhapsody, and use Spotify and MOG. The music streaming services are great for try-before-you-buy listening, and for stringing together ad hoc playlists. (So is YouTube, of course, which often has a deeper catalog.) Making and keeping playlists is hard work, and makes you appreciate DJs. I trust artists, and albums.

The music streamers can be great for music discovery. I prefer Rhapsody’s  curated content, and band and genre info, to Spotify’s sharing orientation. Rhapsody’s recommendations are only okay, possibly because I’m not using it as my primary listening platform. But that’s a problem all discovery tools face. There’s a reason iTunes Ping flopped. (Well, a lot of reasons.) Aggregating usage signals across devices in support of recommendations and programming remains a big potential market opportunity.

An easier problem to solve, but a smaller opportunity, is blending discovery means. That would suit what we at Jupiter Research used to call “digital music aficionados,” that relatively small group of fans (15 percent of online adults) who are big music spenders as well as digital users. I also use Pandora “radio,” online music reviews from Pitchfork and traditional media, Amazon recommendations and reviews, and, of course, friends’ advice. It’s fun to see what people listen to via Spotify or Facebook, but that is just one input. Spotify is smart to integrate Pitchfork content via an app.

Best New Albums of 2012 

I realize I’ve been mis-titling this annual post. “Best of” is awfully judgmental for a list of personal favorites, but what the heck, there is probably more SEO juice in the headline. Roughly in order, just barely in time for stocking stuffing, the following are my faves of the year:

  • Japandroids “Celebration Rock” – indeed it is
  • Swans “The Seer” and Godspeed You! Black Emperor “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” – I especially like it when the guitars drone like bagpipes
  • Various Artists “Chimes of Freedom” – the country Dylan covers work at least as well as the punk ones on this massive Amnesty International compilation
  • Killing Joke “MMXII” and Metz “Metz” – the world didn’t end but KJ is back to form, while Oh, Canada can these Metz guys make noise
  • Chromatics “Kill for Love” – lush Italo disco with a killer Neil Young cover
  • Divine Fits “A Thing Called the Divine Fits” and Metric “Synthetica” – who said the ’80s were over?
  • Dum Dum Girls “End of Daze” – showing no-longer-surprising depth on this EP
  • Fiona Apple “The Idler Wheel…” and Cat Power “Sun” – both are raw and emotional; Fiona’s stripped-down approach works better for me
  • Heartless Bastards “Arrow” and Murder By Death “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon” – rockin’ Americana: HB channels Janis better than MBD does Cash
  • Shearwater “Animal Joy” – with no Decemberists this year, I had to have one pretentious but catchy indie rocker on the list
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