* Hesperion XXI/Savall: Borgia Dynasty: Church and Power in the Renaissance (Alia Vox 3SACD)
* J.S. Bach: Mass in B Minor (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Monk’s Dream (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Components (Blue Note LP)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Patterns (Blue Note LP)
* Jackie McLean: One Step Beyond (Blue Note CD)
* Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (Blue Note CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock Sleepthief: The Madness of Crowds (Intakt CD)
* Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson: VH1 Storytellers (American CD)
* Bob Dylan: Christmas In The Heart (Columbia CD)
* Bob Dylan: Unplugged (MTV/Columbia DVD)
* Grateful Dead: Live/Dead (Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: The Closing Of Winterland December 31, 1978 (GDP 4CD)
* Grateful Dead: Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA 9-21-81 (AUD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 3-30-90 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Boston Garden, Boston, MA 9-20-91 (SBD 3CDR)
* Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Deluxe Edition) (d.3) (EMI 3CD)
* Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Saucer Full Of Secrets (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Music From The Film More (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (Pinkfloyd/EMI 2CD)
* Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Jeff Beck: Blow By Blow (Epic LP)
* Jeff Beck: Wired (Epic LP)
* Phil Collins: Hello, I Must Be Going (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* U2: Achtung Baby (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)
* Future Sound of London: Accelerator (Hypnotic CD)†/‡
* Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc. 2LP)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity 2LP)
* Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Wilco: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch/Rhino 2LP)
* Wilco: Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Wilco: Wilco (the album) (Nonesuch LP)
* Wilco: The Whole Love (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Hands Off Cuba: Volumes Of Sobering Liquids (Sebastian Speaks EP)
* The Mars Volta: Frances The Mute (Gold Standard/Universal CD)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music for Nations/Koch CD)
* Opeth: Damnation (Music for Nations/Koch CD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD/2LP)
* Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic CD)(†/‡)
* Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner 2CD)
* Coheed and Cambria: The Second Stage Turbine Blade (Equal Vision CD)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD+DVD/2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Baroness: Red Album (Relapse CD)
* Baroness: Blue Record (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Relapse 2CD)
* The Black Keys: Attack & Release (Nonesuch LP)
* The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Ray La Montagne: Till The Sun Turns Black (RCA/Legacy LP)
* Ray LaMontagne: Gossip In The Grain (RCA/Legacy 2LP)
This article, recently posted on the semi-obscure Side-Line Music Magazine website, stirred up quite a bit of controversy (in certain corners of the internet, anyway) with this alarming pronouncement:
The major labels plan to abandon the CD-format by the end of 2012 (or even earlier) and replace it with download/stream only releases via iTunes and related music services. The only CD-formats that will be left over will be the limited edition ones, which of course will not be available for every artist.
Interesting. However, a close reading of the article shows that this statement is completely un-sourced and, even more telling, the rest of the piece is devoted to an “I told you so” self-promotion from the author. Hmm. A later “update” is not very convincing either:
We were approached by several people working with major labels, who indeed re-confirm that plans do exist to give up the CD. We keep trying to get official confirmation, but it seems that the matter is very controversial, especially after Side-Line brought out the story.
OK. Let’s assume the story is true. Could the record industry be that stupid? Yes. And the record industry’s stupidity is not news.
While a well-mastered CD can sound pretty darn good, the compact disc is thirty-year-old technology in bad need of an update. Thirty years is an eternity in high-tech. Of course, the record industry had its chance with DVD and/or SACD and/or DVD-Audio but, this predictably resulted in an ill-conceived “format war” with no clear winner. Of course, by then, the public had moved on to MP3s—lossy, compressed, terrible-sounding computer files they could download over their telephone line—they did not care about sound quality, they wanted their music for “free.” CDs were always way too expensive—they still are!—and the major labels totally missed the bandwagon with the MP3. They could have licensed Napster back in 2000 to “give away” songs (like radio used to do) and then try to sell them high-quality versions at retail. But, no—instead, the major labels sued their customers in federal court, fought iTunes tooth and nail and tried to hang on by endlessly “re-mastering” their catalog of hits, often to disastrous effect. Who needs the CD when it sounds like crap? Might as well “steal” the MP3!
Now, we have yet another new format: “Blue Ray”; but who besides Neil Young (and Tom Petty) has done anything with it? Pretty much nobody.
Interestingly, vinyl LPs not only survived all these changes but have thrived in recent years. Along with a plethora of expensive “audiophile” reissues flooding the market, just about every new rock/pop album is simultaneously released on LP, often with vastly superior sonics. Who’d a thunk it back in 1990? Not me! Oh sure, CDs still vastly outsell their vinyl counterparts—but every time I go into Grimey's, the place is packed with folks buying armloads of LPs. CDs? Not so much. Could this just be a fad? Or does sound quality (or at least pride of ownership) matter after all? But, dammit, as much as I love the LP format, we all have to concede it is downright archaic technology. Dragging a needle across a slowly spinning piece of soft plastic? How 19th Century! Now that the bandwidth and storage problems of the 1990s have been solved, why can’t we have good-sounding digital music?
It sure isn’t to be found on iTunes or on “the cloud.” HD-Tracks offers high-resolution files, but playing them back is still a kludge. And while some artists have at least embraced the lossless FLAC format, they are usually outrageously overpriced. For example, King Crimson has a vast archive of live concerts available for download-only and, at five bucks a piece, I would probably buy a bunch of them—but at fifteen dollars, I will buy exactly none. I do not think I am alone in thinking this way. And while Spotify's subscription model is a great idea, their selection (in the USA, anyway) is, ahem, spotty at best. Don’t get me wrong: even though I am an unreformed record collector, I am certainly not opposed to online music services: not only am I running out of room for more “physical media,” I would welcome the opportunity hear new music without having to purchase it outright in advance—but I am reluctant to pay dearly for poor sound, or for something that is here today and gone tomorrow. I know where my records are and I can play them any time I want—and sell them if I no longer like listening to them. Can you do that with your iTunes library (or the files you bought from DGM)? Nope. Are you one of those people who ripped all your CDs and then sold them? Not only are you risking catastrophic loss of all that data, you’re breaking the law! Don’t be surprised when the RIAA comes knocking at your door! This is the sad state of the music industry today.
So, we’ll see what happens in 2012. While the major labels may indeed give up on the CD as a mass-market format, I cannot imagine the compact disc disappearing any time soon. The mainstream may be moving to “the cloud” but I suspect (hope) all those weird jazz and classical labels will continue to service their niche markets as they always have. Moreover, it appears that vinyl will continue to be the format of choice for true fanatics and serious audiophiles for the foreseeable future. That's fine with me. Either way, I suspect there will be some great music released in the coming years, despite these dire predictions.
Happy New Year!