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The CD Case: like discovering that Hollywood is financed by VHS hoarders
July 17, 2014 9:08 AM   Subscribe

The Case for CDs -- as CD sales continue to plummet, Grantland's Steven Hyden takes a "glass-half-full perspective" on those numbers, discusses format nostalgia, and the five types of albums that justify the continued existence of CDs.
Just last week, it was reported that CD sales in the first half of 2014 fell 19.6 percent from the first half of 2013.2 Last year, CD sales represented 57.2 percent of total album sales, which was 10.4 percentage points lower than 2011, when CDs were already in steep decline.

This may sound like the death rattle of a medium, but I prefer taking a glass-half-full perspective: Can you believe that CDs still account for even that many album sales? It’s like discovering that Hollywood is secretly subsidized by VHS hoarders. Apparently there are at least a few people like me still out there: In the past six months, 62.9 million CDs were sold, nearly 10 million more than the 53.8 million downloaded albums. It might be a far cry from the 70.3 billion songs that were streamed during the period, but it’s also a hell of a lot more than “nobody.”
Music sales, in context: Business Insider provided some corrected charts in 2011 (previously), as the original eye-catching chart was not adjusted for inflation or population, and some other were corrected or clarified. Unfortunately, this is the hopeful period before digital music sales started to decline in 2013. And as Tiny Mix Tapes noted, the sales numbers for physical albums are taken from a few major retailers, while digital numbers are carried by and large by iTunes and Amazon, so there's not a solid 1:1 correlation between the charts.

The return of cassettes: In January 2012, All Music Guide writer Fred Thomas posted the first All Tape Guide blog post to AMG, focusing on an individual tape-focused label with each post. The first was Teen River, and the second blog post was on Burger Records (Bandcamp), who were mentioned in Hyden's article, and are notable for having sold over 80,000 tapes between 2007 and 2012.

The sounds from the article: individual songs, or complete albums on YouTube, no playlists for easy jumping around between tracks.

"... hearing “Lodi” with pops and crackles feels appropriate" "Those records demand to be played on tape, preferably on a boom box that was purchased in the electronics section of a department store that went out of business in 1993" The albums that will always be remembered on CD, like "a lost piece of data tucked inside scarcely used multidisc changers and laundry baskets full of shit leftover from collegiate apartments" The kinds of albums that still make sense on CD:
1. Albums that make 79 minutes feel like a (mostly enjoyable) eternity - example: Tool's Lateralus, which "must be played on a CD player located on the opposite side of the room from where you are seated, presumably after you have been immobilized by an oversize turkey sandwich or horse tranquilizers. Only then can the greatness of this record be revealed."

Anti-example: Wilco's Being There, which would have fit onto one CD, but was split into two, "consciously presented as a CD that wants to be a vinyl record"

2. Albums that utilize sketches, between-song musical interludes, or other interstitial material -- "A good case study in how changing formats have affected the way that art is not only packaged but also actually conceived and created is Kanye West’s discography"
2004: The College Dropout (75 minutes long, with an intro track and three skits)
2005: Late Registration (70+ minutes long, with an intro, four skits, and a hidden track)
...
2010: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (~70 minutes long, an exception to the trend to drop skits with its one interlude, "arguably his best album-length statement and worst album to play in a bar")
...
2013: Yeezus (a hair over 40 minutes long, "a record largely experienced by listeners online")

See also: Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, or any Public Enemy album (example: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back)

3. Albums with hidden tracks -- examples: Nirvana's Nevermind and Dr. Dre's The Chronic
The CD listening experience exists at the happy medium between these extremes — there’s the ritual of putting on a physical disc, but sometimes after having the same album on for more than an hour, your brain needs something to shock it back into consciousness. This is why hidden tracks were invented.
4. Albums that go meta and reference being played on CD -- examples include Jay Z's Hova Song for the lyrics and Tom Petty's Hello, CD Listeners, where Petty pauses the music for a moment in fairness to vinyl and cassette listener.

5. Albums that are Zaireeka -- "I guess it’s possible to make a record that can only be wholly heard by playing four audio streams at once. I suppose you could do that with four different vinyl records, too." Zaireeka is the four-CD album from The Flaming Lips that is designed to be played on four stereos at the same time. And of course, someone made a synchronized album and put it on YouTube, and the Flaming Lips did indeed release Zaireeka on vinyl, too, which is also on YouTube. And to go further down the rabbit hole, the Flaming Lips actually made a multi-track spectacular specifically for the digital age, embracing YouTube fully.
posted by filthy light thief (98 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
*ahem*
posted by Fizz at 9:14 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


It's about time someone made a decent case for CDs!

That joke is probably contained within at least one of the articles, but I care not.
posted by dng at 9:17 AM on July 17 [16 favorites]


My argument for CDs is generally that when my hard drive crashes, they are still there, no matter where or when I bought them.

Assuming they aren't scratched to hell from overplay. *salutes Guster's Lost and Gone Forever*
posted by maryr at 9:19 AM on July 17 [16 favorites]


CDs are good because there's a CD player sitting on my bookshelf with a pile of CDs next to it, so I can play music without going and getting my laptop out. What's more, having a small pile of CDs allows me to focus my attention on a few things I actually want to listen to. In many contexts, it's preferable to have a smaller choice of what to listen to than a bigger one.

Of course, I also use Spotify and Pandora and have tons and tons of music sitting on iTunes. All channels have their function.
posted by escabeche at 9:21 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


The hidden track schtick has never done anything but annoy me. As little as I like the proliferation of bonus tracks and special gimmes that has come with digital releases (we put this song in iTunes, that song on Amazon, etc.), the decision to make one song 20 minutes long and put three minutes of a song at the end after a ten-minute gap is just an artifact of the technology, and I don't miss it any more than I miss the restrictions of song length on two sides of vinyl or the distinctive cha-chunk of my eight-track player when I was a kid. I know they just rip the album most of the time with older albums to put them on digital services, but I really wish they'd just make separate songs out of the hidden tracks so I don't have to do it manually. /rant
posted by immlass at 9:21 AM on July 17 [12 favorites]


I like CDs because I like to decide for myself how my music will be compressed.
posted by slkinsey at 9:23 AM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Dookie is the very first CD I was given for my very first personal CD player as a kid.

That album is the official soundtrack to sixth grade, for me. It seemed like every classmate had it.
posted by whittaker at 9:25 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


My CD collection just keeps growing and growing. I love scouring thrift shops for gems and stuff I otherwise would never pay full price for. I've got a zillion MP3 files that I almost never play, but there's a special kind of joy I feel when I grab Prince's "Emancipation" CD ($3.00 at Goodwill) off my shelf.
posted by davebush at 9:26 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]


This is a case for "albums"--not a case for CDs. That is, it's a case for playing a curated sequence of tracks in their entirety. I do that all the time, even though it's a long time since I put a physical CD into a tray.
posted by yoink at 9:26 AM on July 17 [9 favorites]


The hidden track schtick has never done anything but annoy me.
I always thought the pre-gap hidden tracks before Track 1 started were some of the coolest uses of the format.
posted by whittaker at 9:26 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I am not overwhelmed by most of these reasons. I do like hidden tracks in the negative time of a CD, like a secret Nick Cave song tucked away somewhere on an X-Files soundtrack.

CDs sit at an unusual corner of a table crossing digital and analog against singles and albums. One could extend this an extra dimension along a physical object vs. informational product, as well, but certain corners of that cube would be rather sparse. Personally, I love CDs for where they sit: digital, album, and physical.

Few things annoy me more than bands who release on vinyl and cassette now, yet refuse to produce a CD. Yes, they exist. I am sure they have "reasons." I dislike having a form of media which degrades every time you use it: charming for some, depressing for others. Yes, CDs are hardly impervious blocks of transparent adamantium holding musical bits until a possible proton decay takes us all; being digital, you can at least back them up somewhere, run checksums on them, and so forth. I like that they are not lossily compressed, like MP3s are, although now you can get MP3s at far more reasonable rates than the horrific 128kbs, which renders cymbals into this watery electronic crashing noise.

And the CD is an album, rarely a single. Yes, most albums these days are a few singles and a lot of awful uninspired noodling about with too much studio time, but the albums which are a piece of music as a whole are wonderful things. Nine Objects of Desire is a great album because, while each song is wonderful, they're even better strung along like beads on a necklace.

I like having liner notes. Agreed that, for the most part, the cases are terrible, with those fragile spindles in the middle which give birth to little transparent fragments. They can be moved from your hand to another person's hand, sans electricity. They can be stacked and sorted. You can sell them to someone else without worrying about draconian DRM, although that's largely a thing of the past, you may rest assured that if it were once again possible to destroy first sale rights, the MPAA would do it with a haste.

If something else were invented that was digital/album/physical that was not a CD, but somehow better, I would go for that as well, no nostalgia here.
posted by adipocere at 9:33 AM on July 17 [11 favorites]


The difference between CD and VHS is that CDs are uncompressed musical data, and therefore higher sound quality, than MP3s. VHS is definitely lower resolution than DVD, so there's not any advantage there (although DVDs are compressed images, and sometimes can look like bad JPEGs when there's a scene in darkness, smoke, or with a lot of motion). I still buy all music on CD, because if I'm going to pay for it, why get something inferior?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:36 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


adipocere: like a secret Nick Cave song tucked away somewhere on an X-Files soundtrack

The liner notes read: "Nick Cave and The Dirty Three would like you to know that "0" is also a number"

See also: Wikipedia - list of albums with tracks hidden in the pregap.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:40 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I remember the first album of any description I ever bought, ATCQ's People's Instinctive Travels on tape. But the first Cd I ever bought was Queensryche's Empire, which is far more humiliating. Thus, cassettes forever! CDs to a lesser extent!

For dance music, CDs are almost invariably cheaper than buying tracks online. So I still buy them when they're available.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:40 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I still buy all music on CD, because if I'm going to pay for it, why get something inferior?

why not just dl the FLAC from bandcamp for cheaper?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:41 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


CDs are compressed too, just less so.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:42 AM on July 17


I have had some albums on vinyl, reel-to-reel, cassette, CD/DVD, MP3, and various high bit rate digital formats.

I consider myself something of a digerati and biased, of course, to my aural preferences (it's 97% speakers/headphone quality for me--not the storage format).

I know quite a few folks who insist that nothing digital sounds as good as vinyl. But I doubt their ability to actually discern the difference between a vinyl record playing and a decent bit rate digital presentation of that same song.

CDs, not vinyl, have become the new old format for music.
posted by CrowGoat at 9:45 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


"Why the so-called 'steering wheel' can not, and should not, replace the time-honored buggy whip", an article from Escuyr magazine.

Available only in tablet form. Your choice of clay or cement.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:48 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


1. Albums that make 79 minutes feel like a (mostly enjoyable) eternity - example: Tool's Lateralus, which "must be played on a CD player located on the opposite side of the room from where you are seated, presumably after you have been immobilized by an oversize turkey sandwich or horse tranquilizers. Only then can the greatness of this record be revealed."

Oh my god, this. That is pretty much exactly how Tool works. I mean, the substances are all wrong, but, yeah. I used to spend the wee hours of many a night at my friend's house smoking bowls and zoning out to a whole 5-disc changer full of Tool, and it was awesome. If you don't 'get' Tool, it's because you haven't done it right.

(Whether you should 'get' Tool is another matter altogether.)

CDs are uncompressed musical data


All digital audio is 'compressed' to some extent; smooth waves are turned into staircases. The trick is that the fidelity of CDs is just high enough that the all-analogue tympanic membranes of your speakers and your ears smooth everything out. It's like falling down the stairs, but on a toboggan.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on July 17 [13 favorites]


CDs are compressed too, just less so.

The amount of compression often depends on the Mastering Engineer's preferences. One of the reasons I've often suggested why some people like 'Vinyl' better is that they prefer the final mix on that vinyl more than the digitally remastered equivalent.
posted by mikelieman at 9:49 AM on July 17


Hollywood is secretly subsidized by VHS hoarders

Ahh yes, lets place a negative connotation around the idea of owning/possession VS rental.

Meanwhile a CD can be resold or donated. Not so with rented things.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:55 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest, shouldn't it be obvious? Last I checked, not all Bandcamp stuff offered FLAC, maybe it's changed. And then you're either burning it to CD or maybe you have to transcode it to something else because the world isn't FLAC-everywhere yet, and then you still have to back it up and you're still without liner notes.

The CD has multiple preferential spots for people who use their music a certain type of way.
posted by adipocere at 10:01 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


As someone who owns a lot of music on vinyl, CD, and electronic file, the best—and maybe only—case for the compact disc is convenience. They're tangible, relatively durable, easy to store, and capable of providing an hour or more worth of uninterrupted music. I like to play vinyl if I'm listening with others; the ritual of putting on a record and dropping a needle seems more sociable somehow. Alone I'd just as soon put CDs in the changer and forget about it. Electronic files I tend to regard as a salvage format, mostly limited to music I can't get on either CD or vinyl. And then I usually burn them to CD for convenience.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:01 AM on July 17


All digital audio is 'compressed' to some extent; smooth waves are turned into staircases. The trick is that the fidelity of CDs is just high enough that the all-analogue tympanic membranes of your speakers and your ears smooth everything out. It's like falling down the stairs, but on a toboggan.

Not quite. The digital "staircase" never really exists as an electrical signal or acoustic wave. It's a conceptual wave shape that is smoothed out before it leaves the analog end of the DAC. Everything that goes through the amplifiers and speakers (or headphones) is analog.
posted by rocket88 at 10:04 AM on July 17 [6 favorites]


All digital audio is 'compressed' to some extent; smooth waves are turned into staircases

That is incorrect, CD audio is pretty much perfect as a distribution format.


The amount of compression often depends on the Mastering Engineer's preferences

Dynamic range compression (the excessive use of which is a symptom of the loudness war) is completely unrelated to lossy compression.
posted by Bangaioh at 10:05 AM on July 17 [11 favorites]


For dance music, CDs are almost invariably cheaper than buying tracks online. So I still buy them when they're available.

I swear, no genre in my collection has rendered the CD format more useless than dance music. With rare exceptions, dance is all about tracks, not albums; the rate at which dance producers churn out material is faster than almost anything except possibly hip-hop, and the constant mutation of trends, stratification of genres, and proliferation of genuinely excellent DIY remix culture means that CDs can never, ever keep up with the game.

What's interesting/frustrating to me is that vinyl is still the best way to get dance music. Browsing Juno's new releases every week is tear-inducing because so many killer tracks are only ever released on vinyl, making a home turntable/conversion setup pretty much essential for anyone with a serious interest in the genre. Yes, there are tons of great tracks available digitally, but I still hear the best and most cutting-edge stuff in clubs being spun from vinyl.
posted by mykescipark at 10:05 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


depends on the Mastering Engineer's preferences
Vinyl has a distinct sound, so it needs different mastering than digital. Harshness in the treble is smoothed out in the acetate cutting and vinyl pressing process. In mastering vinyl you often boost the treble to give it a nice sheen. If you do the same for digital it sounds harsh. Before the "loudness war", CDs usually had less compression than vinyl in the mastering, but now everything is absurdly loud.
posted by bhnyc at 10:14 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


3. Albums with hidden tracks -- examples: Nirvana's Nevermind and Dr. Dre's The Chronic
The CD listening experience exists at the happy medium between these extremes — there’s the ritual of putting on a physical disc, but sometimes after having the same album on for more than an hour, your brain needs something to shock it back into consciousness. This is why hidden tracks were invented.


Or my favorite, the pregap. The first time I discovered this was with Songs for the Deaf which has a thumping, throbbing bass pregap, that you can feel in your bones.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:19 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]


This is a case for "albums"--not a case for CDs. That is, it's a case for playing a curated sequence of tracks in their entirety. I do that all the time, even though it's a long time since I put a physical CD into a tray.
posted by yoink


I've been a DJ in some form or other since at least 1974 ... when I got my first cassette deck and could start organizing songs in the order I wanted them (as opposed to what the album or radio playlist dictated). Admittedly, my first efforts were rather scattershot (I was only fourteen), but by the time the 80s hit, I think I was getting pretty good at organizing a flow, at improving on what the artist or radio station was offering. Indeed, if you tracked the hours I put into it, I'm pretty sure I'd cracked the 10,000 metric. So on some level, I suspect I'd become some kind of expert. Which gets us to:

CASSETTE:
excellent format for a locked in 30-45 minute flow (times-two if you consider both sides of the tape). The DJ makes the selections, determines the order, the listener listens. True they can fast-forward if they don't like something but that pretty much destroys the spell.

CD:
the best format for a collection of tracks which can either be listened to in the DJ's pre-determined order, or shuffled if the listener so desires. Skipping tracks is also much easier than with cassette. The power shift is all in the listener's direction. *

DIGITAL:
arguably the best of both worlds, with very few limits as to what DJ or listener might want (other than the limits the wave forms themselves). Except in my experience, what it's mostly added up to is that folks just rip my individual track selections, dump the ones they don't like (often after less than one complete listen) and put the keepers into their ever expanding collections. So whatever effort I've put into determining the flow (which, to my mind, is a huge part of the DJ's art) ultimately feels wasted.

So what do I mostly focus on now? Radio, that cutting edge medium of the early 20th Century. I've got a show at one of the local campus stations which folks can either listen to in real time, or download in podcast form.

I guess my final thought goes to Marshall McLuhan. The medium in question necessarily changes the stuff of the stuff being communicated, just as the ambient temperature changes the stuff of an ice cream cone. This is not open to negotiation. This is how reality works.

Long live reality, I guess.

* obviously, a CD can be all just one extended pre-mixed track, but this is seldom how I've used them.
posted by philip-random at 10:22 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]


mykescipark: I still hear the best and most cutting-edge stuff in clubs being spun from vinyl.

Until you get hooked into a scene and trade tracks directly with producers, then I've heard it's all digital. Nothing more fresh than getting a song the producer finished up on a few minutes ago or an edit you just made, right to your Traktor or Serato setup.

And if you know the right band of bandits, those vinyl exclusives aren't so closely tied to their formats. Music wants to be free! ;)
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I still buy CDs. They sound better, they decode nicely into faux surround (something I enjoy listening to), they still have a booklet usually with lyrics and art.

I won't stop buying CDs of new material. It ends up on my iPod (ripped myself), but I listen to CDs all the time when I'm at home. Best way to listen to music that is easily available.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


M83's last double-cd is a great use of the format, IMO.

Until you get hooked into a scene and trade tracks directly with producers, then I've heard it's all digital.

Yeah, it's all digital, and much of it never gets released in any format. Very few edm producers make any money from song sales, so they have almost no incentive to actually release songs until they're already sick of playing them at gigs.
posted by empath at 10:47 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


> they still have a booklet usually with lyrics and art.

It seems a decent number of CDs I buy are now don't even come in jewel cases but those terrible cardboard digipacks with no insert or anything. It's disappointing as Hell.

Even more sad is that downloads could come with PDF liner notes, "artbooks," or other interesting things but most of the time you just get a 1200x1200 JPG of the cover art.
posted by Gev at 10:47 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


It seems a decent number of CDs I buy are now don't even come in jewel cases but those terrible cardboard digipacks with no insert or anything. It's disappointing as Hell.

Even more sad is that downloads could come with PDF liner notes, "artbooks," or other interesting things but most of the time you just get a 1200x1200 JPG of the cover art.


That's why I finally gave up and started buying online a year or two ago. No point in lugging around the CD unless there's good liner notes. I miss being able to pour over them: reading lyrics, musician credits (broken down song-by-song in some cases!), looking at artwork, reading cryptic thank-yous... It made it seem more valuable and less of a commodity.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:00 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


"... hearing “Lodi” with pops and crackles feels appropriate"
"Those records demand to be played on tape, preferably on a boom box..."

Apparently I approach music listening in a different way from many people. Pining for lower-fidelity music with audible defects seems like some bizarre neurotic form of nostalgia to me, whether it's vinyl, tape, CD, or over-compressed and low-resolution MP3. Back when records and tapes were all there were, imperfections like pops / crackles / wow / flutter / reduced fidelity were pretty uniformly tolerated only inasmuch as there were no other choices - not something to strive for.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:03 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Actually, adding noise to a record is a fairly common production trick in dance music, especially the more minimal kinds. When you're making a fairly sparse track, there's a lot of empty space in the sound, so people will add fake record crackle, noise from people talking, etc so it's not just dead silence.
posted by empath at 11:06 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I remember the first CD I bought (Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack*), but I have no idea when/where/why or what the last one I bought was. It was too long ago.

Out with a whimper, not a bang.

* don't judge me.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:12 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Still have my Last of the Mohicans soundtrack on CD, that thing's great, I still listen to it!
posted by marxchivist at 11:16 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


My first was the Lion King soundtrack (followed shortly after by Weird Al's The Food Album, so I feel OK with my choices). Both of these were subsequently dubbed to cassette because I didn't have a CD player in my bedroom.

I think my last was Curtis Mayfield's Curtis, but that was at least 4 years ago. Everything since has been iTunes/Amazon MP3 or more recently Spotify.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:18 AM on July 17


Apparently I approach music listening in a different way from many people. Pining for lower-fidelity music with audible defects seems like some bizarre neurotic form of nostalgia to me, whether it's vinyl, tape, CD, or over-compressed and low-resolution MP3.

I don't think it's a specific preference for those sounds, but the association of those sounds with the songs. Growing up listening to a well-used record, you'll know the lyrics, the instruments, and where the vinyl pops every time. And I wonder if young people still prefer the low-resolution MP3 "sizzle" like they did in 2009.

I still have a wall of CDs at home, and I love browsing them (they're still not organized). My vinyl is at least sorted in a half-assed way, into various electronic genres, drum'n'bass specifically, rock albums, soundtracks, and weird things that I've picked up and don't fit into those other categories. But I also subscribe to a few labels on Drip.fm, as well as eMusic.com. I used to work near a great little indie record shop, and they had a fantastic selection of new stuff, as well as a big collection of used CDs, though most of that was dreck. Still, I'd spend hours every so often, combing through that for any gems. Now, I don't know where there's a good record store in the frickin' state for new music that isn't major label. From time to time, I dream of opening a New Mexico branch for Boo Boo Records.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on July 17


Maybe I am an Old, but CDs are a no brainer for me. I preffer to listen to music on thoughtfully arranged hour-long or longer chunks, and I'll listen to the things I like for weeks on end, so I don't need a huge playlist of random tracks: radio does a better job of that anyway.

I will maybe switch over to downloads if someone comes up with a way to take my money and give me music that is at least CD-quality, DRM-free, organized into albums of ordered tracks according to a non-bozo scheme and paired with decent metadata, liner notes etc. Oh and no way I'm giving you money for a service, I want to buy the stuff - I'll want to keep it around when you decide to screw me over in a way that bothers me enough, or the market decides your time has come.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:02 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


"... hearing "Lodi" with pops and crackles feels appropriate"

I've often wondered what people who have never messed around with a record player think of the 'VRRRORP!' sound (from a needle whipping across a record) injected into so many TV shows to highlight a sudden reversal or halt of the action or thought of the characters.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:04 PM on July 17


Yeah, if you like using CDs, there's never been a better time to be a consumer.

Few months ago, I went on a nostalgic binge of 90s UK indie pop. I spent a couple of hours browsing through the seller listings on discogs.com and it was CRAZY how many of those "rare limited edition!" CD singles I could never afford to buy at the time were selling for absurdly low prices....I'm talking like 37 cents each in many cases. Hello, instant Boo Radleys single collection.

I just bought a large collection that includes about 200 CD reissues of classic Blue Note, Verve, and Prestige albums from the 1950s & 1960s, for less than a buck each. I mean that's just ridiculous.
posted by the bricabrac man at 12:47 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I still have a few CD wallets from around 1997-2001 that I've managed to never part with in all this time. All the CD cases and cover art are long gone. It's a reminder of the stuff I pretentiously loved in high school and that I believed separated me from most of the classmates in my suburban hell. Orb's Live 93, Beck's Mutations, Sunny Day Real Estate, Underworld, Sonic Youth's Dirty, lots of Radiohead, Badly Drawn Boy, The Promise Ring, Sigur Ros, Oval. Most of that reads as pedestrian to me now, but back then it was a window to a world that I felt only a few people had access to. There's also a beige covered CD without any text on it and I've never been able to figure out where it came from, or what artist it is. I suppose I could shazam it now, but I like maintaining the mystery of it.

I agree that there's a certain aura of CDs for me - dorm rooms and laundry baskets, heart-on-sleeve emo and 90's electronica, long road trips with plenty of fresh AA batteries, feeling stuck yet with a horizon of freedom in sight. I think the fidelity is too clean and digital for me to feel any real love for it, but I can see how it can fall into vogue again.
posted by naju at 12:52 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's a specific preference for those sounds, but the association of those sounds with the songs.

That was the point of my "nostalgia" impression. I have, or had, LPs of music that I loved dearly and played over and over again. Years later, when CDs of those albums became available, I bought them. I can't tell you how happy I was and am to hear my beloved tunes with more clarity and dynamic range, and lacking aural defects (and with no concerns about degrading the fidelity just by replaying them)! Yet I have zero trouble associating the music with whatever time period or past events - I don't need no stinking scratches or dust to do that. To each their own, and all; nevertheless it remains beyond my comprehension.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:15 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]




The new Jimmy Page remasters of Led Zeppelin I-III sound fantastic. Heavy and clean. I've got zero nostalgia for how I listened to them back in the day.
posted by whuppy at 1:44 PM on July 17


About 5 years ago, my wife and I threw out* many dozens of CDs of music we love, music that we have a deep emotional attachment to, because: a) where the fuck would we play them? b) what's the point of lugging around boxes and boxes of useless plastic discs?.
Guess we're not very nostalgic.

* as in, straight to a garbage can, because who'd want them?
posted by signal at 1:49 PM on July 17


The best use of the CD is for those of us with cars circa 2006 or so - that is, cars new enough to come without cassette decks but old enough to come without standard aux in. CD is the only way to get decent quality audio in the car. Also, CDs without cases can now be left in visible sight in the car without risk of break and enter to the car.

Ironically I've been listening to Siamese Dream on my six disc changer. And it's still a great album.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:49 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I like CDs because I like to decide for myself how my music will be compressed.


Lolwut. Don't ever look too deeply into the sausage factory that is just about every recording studio or mastering house, if you want to continue to believe that particular fantasy...
posted by stenseng at 1:50 PM on July 17


I buy cds because digital music retailers have made it clear that

1) they would really prefer I didn't, and
2) they have no intention of allowing people to actually "own" digital music at any point in the near future.

But mostly number one.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:52 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Vinyl has a distinct sound, so it needs different mastering than digital. Harshness in the treble is smoothed out in the acetate cutting and vinyl pressing process. In mastering vinyl you often boost the treble to give it a nice sheen.

I think you're describing the RIAA EQ curve, which doesn't really have anything to do with compression, per se...
posted by stenseng at 1:53 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


If you don't 'get' Tool, it's because you haven't done it right.

I hadn't thought about Tool in ages. I was in a cold beer and wine store just yesterday evening when "Prison Sex" started playing, and I looked around and the clerk was quite a bit younger than me, and I thought that was kinda cool but weird because Tool occupies a very 90s place in my head. I haven't followed them much since Undertow, and I gather from fans that some of their best stuff came out since then. Got to see them twice, once around the time they released Undertow, at Lollapalooza in Columbus in 1993 and once a bit later but still on the Undertow tour back in my hometown. They are pretty good live. They cut up a baby doll with a chainsaw at the first one, you don't see that every day. The show at Porter Hall in 1994 was so loud...I don't think my hearing ever recovered.
posted by Hoopo at 1:55 PM on July 17


Don't ever look too deeply into the sausage factory

Could you expand on this a bit? Is it common practice nowadays to master CDs from lossy sources?
posted by Bangaioh at 1:58 PM on July 17


That is incorrect, CD audio is pretty much perfect as a distribution format.

Also, CDs - or really the Red Book spec for audio cds sound *ok* but I'd hardly describe them as perfect. They were a sufficient compromise for the economics of early 80s consumer tech. 16bit 44.1k is *just good enough* if that.

Also, many CDs are mastered with a preemphasis/deemphasis EQ curve, just like the RIAA eq curve used on vinyl records.
posted by stenseng at 1:58 PM on July 17


I think we're talking apples and oranges. I think "compression" is being used in this thread by some to describe perceptual encoding - the algorithm used in MP3s etc to toss out extraneous data ostensibly inaudible to most human ears in order to reduce file sizes.

I'm using compression in an audio engineering sense - dynamic range compression - reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds by narrowing or "compressing" an audio signal's dynamic range.
posted by stenseng at 2:02 PM on July 17


The albums that will always be remembered on CD, like "a lost piece of data tucked inside scarcely used multidisc changers and laundry baskets full of shit leftover from collegiate apartments" [snip]

Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville
Don't know if anyone has read the 33 1/3 about Exile in Guyville, but Gina Arnold makes an interesting argument that the true format on which the album should be considered is vinyl, in part because of the inspiration Phair drew from Exile on Main Street for sequencing, etc. As with most arguments Gina Arnold has made, I don't know how much I agree with her, but in this case it's worth considering, I guess?
posted by pxe2000 at 2:06 PM on July 17


I think we're talking apples and oranges

Indeed, I assumed slkinsey was talking about "filesize" compression in the comment you quoted, no arguments regarding current mastering practices and DR compression.


16bit 44.1k is *just good enough* if that

How so? I doubt most people would make use of even 80 dB of dynamic range when listening at home, what's the point of lowering the noise floor even further than the 100+ dB 16bit audio allows? Same for the sampling rate, why reproduce frequencies beyond 22 kHz?
posted by Bangaioh at 2:15 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


It's nice to see Burger Records get a shout! I'm one of those insufferable hipsters who buys a lot of tapes in additional to vinyl, and they've signed so many good bands, in addition to doing the cassette releases for albums that were released vinyl-only on other, smaller labels.

Other rad tape labels:

Lolipop Records
Dumpster Tapes
Gnar Tapes
Eye Vybe
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:16 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


Lateralus is just fine on an MP3 player, as is 10,000 Days. But the CDs do admittedly have some awesome packaging which I will never throw away.


Could you expand on this a bit? Is it common practice nowadays to master CDs from lossy sources?

I suspect this was a mixup between lossy data compression and dynamic compression (aka "Volume Wars").
posted by Foosnark at 2:17 PM on July 17


adipocere: Bandcamp requires artists to upload music in lossless format so that they can transcode it and make it available in all formats, including FLAC ("there’s a rabid minority out there who will love that you’re giving them a choice."). FLAC is always available, and this has been the policy since the beginning (internet archive shows the exact same FAQ question on the site in 2009).
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:19 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Another CD-specific album: They Might Be Giant's Apollo 18, designed to be played on shuffle so the 21 short tracks at the end of the CD get mixed in randomly with the full songs.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:21 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Guyville sounds like it would sound best on reel to reel.
posted by aaronetc at 2:33 PM on July 17


Foosnark: dynamic compression (aka "Volume Wars")

I think the term you want is loudness war or loudness race. The current top image on that Wikipedia article is the most telling, as it depicts the re-mastering of the same track from 1991 to 1995, and finally 2007, and here's an animated GIF depicting a similar shift to ever-louder, losing the dynamic range over time. On that topic, here's the Dynamic Range Database, to give you an idea of what's out there now, and here's NPR coverage on the topic from 2009.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:33 PM on July 17


How so? I doubt most people would make use of even 80 dB of dynamic range when listening at home, what's the point of lowering the noise floor even further than the 100+ dB 16bit audio allows? Same for the sampling rate, why reproduce frequencies beyond 22 kHz?

Not so much about reproducing frequencies beyond the range of human hearing, but more about having much greater dynamic range. Lower noise floor, less need for dynamic compression, clearer and cleaner sounds.
posted by stenseng at 2:35 PM on July 17


I suspect this was a mixup between lossy data compression and dynamic compression (aka "Volume Wars").


Yes, and not even the loudness wars on the mastering end. Dynamic compression and limiting gets used (and abused) all throughout the tracking and mixing process as well.
posted by stenseng at 2:37 PM on July 17


If you want to read about why CD's have held on for so long there's a great book about Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age

Spoiler alert: It's about money.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:51 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


In just two years, the CD format will be as old as the LP format was when CDs were introduced.

Think about that.
posted by zsazsa at 3:49 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


Tool is a classic case of a pretty decent band with good ideas and a COMPLETELY insufferable fanbase that nearly ruins everything.
posted by naju at 3:58 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Yes, and not even the loudness wars on the mastering end. Dynamic compression and limiting gets used (and abused) all throughout the tracking and mixing process as well.

...and at the reproduction end too, since a very popular way to listen to music now is via bluetooth speaker boxes like the jambox, which employs a completely awe inspiring amount of dynamic compression/limiting/dynamic multi band EQ wizardry. And it's one of the more "straight dope" speakers like that out there, stuff like the bose soundlink(which sells by the semi truck load) and the beats pill employ way more sound shaping.

Not that you'll notice that much when you're laying on the beach sucking premixed margarita out of a plastic bag with foam rubber butt cheeks on your head, but it is a thing that's happening... and a lot of people don't really seem to notice because "wow, the highs sound so crisp and that's so much bass for a little speaker!"


That said, i wanted to make the case that if you're not a huge CD fan, have you ever heard a well mastered(which is to say, generally older or MFSL gold or something) CD played on a nice cd player? I have an old ADC that still blows me away, and my coworker has multiple earlier high end ones with the really high quality DACs and pre amps. An older high end CD player plugged in to a really nice solid state pre-power combo or integrated amp and some quality speakers will surprise you.

I mean, i'm a vinyl guy, but it sounds better than FLAC out of anything but a higher end DAC to me.(which, by the way, for the curious... mark of the unicorns high end stuff beats the crap out of anything else i've tried). It was a revelation getting the thing and relistening to early 90s cds i've had for ages like the first nirvana albums, diamond fist werny, the good stevie wonder reissues, etc.
posted by emptythought at 4:59 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


The best use of the CD is for those of us with cars circa 2006 or so - that is, cars new enough to come without cassette decks but old enough to come without standard aux in.

And even if you've got an aux in, there's a big difference between fumbling with your phone or mp3-playing device to use the controls while you're driving (helpful hint: don't) and changing CDs. One can be done with your eyes on the road, or with minimal glances away from the road. The other is barely shy of texting while driving.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:05 PM on July 17


"One of the reasons I've often suggested why some people like 'Vinyl' better is that they prefer the final mix on that vinyl more than the digitally remastered equivalent."

Yeah, a lot of stuff was recorded with that RIAA curve in mind, and when they redid the mastering for early CDs, the treble ended up really unpleasant.

What I'll say is that the reason I still buy CDs but feel ambivalent is because I have a CD player that plugs into my receiver along with my turntable, and there are a lot of albums that were mastered really well for CD. That's a better argument than most of his jibber-jabber about skits and shit. Bands like Talk Talk sound better on CD than on mp3. And it's kind of a shame that the small speakers of laptops and earbuds mean that fewer bands are mixing for that type of fidelity.
posted by klangklangston at 5:19 PM on July 17


pxe2000: Don't know if anyone has read the 33 1/3 about Exile in Guyville, but Gina Arnold makes an interesting argument that the true format on which the album should be considered is vinyl, in part because of the inspiration Phair drew from Exile on Main Street for sequencing, etc. As with most arguments Gina Arnold has made, I don't know how much I agree with her, but in this case it's worth considering, I guess?

She made this claim in her review of the album in 1993, and I believed her enough to buy it on vinyl.

It's a terrible idea. Each side is only 12-13 minutes long, because the whole album clocks in a little under an hour.

I went back to the record store and traded it in for a CD, which is the format it was sequenced for, not a hacked-up double LP.

Still, thanks to Gina Arnold's suggestion, I think of "Fuck And Run" as "the first track on disc 2," which doesn't make sense to anyone else!

(Here is where I put my theory that Exile is better than Whip-Smart purely on the basis of song sequencing. For her first album she ordered the tracks based on their musical similarity to the Stones' record, so they flowed. For her second album she went with a "conceptual" scheme where the subject of each song fits into the stages of the development of a romantic relationship. That's not how to sequence a mix tape or an original album, unless it's an actual "concept album.")
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:24 PM on July 17


Right of first sale, right of first sale, right of first sale. I want to OWN the recordings I buy, so I can lend them or sell them or give them away or (in the vast majority of cases) have them available to me whenever I want, as a matter of law, not subject to the vagaries of a license agreement.
posted by kristi at 5:43 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


adipocere: Bandcamp requires artists to upload music in lossless format so that they can transcode it and make it available in all formats, including FLAC ("there’s a rabid minority out there who will love that you’re giving them a choice."). FLAC is always available, and this has been the policy since the beginning (internet archive shows the exact same FAQ question on the site in 2009).

This is the number one reason why I love Bandcamp and artists that release stuff via Bandcamp. Regardless of whether or not the artist offers a physical edition via Bandcamp, you can always download pristine digital copies of the album for as long as you like. Want that deluxe vinyl release or a limited edition CD? Sure, no problem, here are the FLAC files for immediate download while you wait for that delivery. If every band was on Bandcamp and released their music this way, the world would be a better place.

Bands that only put out vinyl and fuckin' ITUNES releases of their stuff kill me because it's like they've given me zero choice for getting a durable copy of their album; it's either vinyl, which requires some reasonably hi-fi setup to turn into a digital file (at which point, fuck it, torrents) or transcode some MP3s from some lossy AAC files. Great. And don't get me started on "vinyl with MP3 voucher." Oh, what's that? I can download your shitty 192kbps MP3s in a ZIP file only once and then I can fuck off? Awesome!

(now if you'll excuse me, my old-man-cane collection isn't going to alphabetize itself.)
posted by chrominance at 5:49 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Oh, and as an aside: the Nick Cave/Dirty Three pregap track on the X-Files soundtrack is what got me into the Dirty Three, even though I never owned the soundtrack and only ever heard that track on the radio. That and "Oriental-American," off the Versus album Two Cents Plus Tax, are two reasons why I love pregap tracks.
posted by chrominance at 5:55 PM on July 17


Lower noise floor, less need for dynamic compression, clearer and cleaner sounds

But 16bit 44.1 kHz _already_ is overkill.

Quoting from a HA thread:
To this day, including the use of so-called hi rez formats, there are no known examples of commercial recordings whose actual program materal exceeds 90 dB. This is due to the practical limitations of recording real music in real spaces. Of course any recording engineer who wants to can amplify a signal to 0 dB FS and then do an electronic fade out to -144 dB if he works with 24 bits.

But back in the real world, if you bang a gong in a real room you might generate a tone burst that peaks at 110 dB SPL, and you can let it fade into the background noise in the room, but the background noise in the room will still be at least about 20 dB SPL and there you are, 90 dB dynamic range.
Recent CDs are hypercompressed to be "competitive" or whatever bullshit justification is given to prevent us from having nice things, not because they need to due to some limitation of the format.
posted by Bangaioh at 6:25 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


"Right of first sale, right of first sale, right of first sale. I want to OWN the recordings I buy, so I can lend them or sell them or give them away or (in the vast majority of cases) have them available to me whenever I want, as a matter of law, not subject to the vagaries of a license agreement."

Oh man, that was something George Hotelling (who is a mefite, but I forget his name here) did in the early days of iTunes.
posted by klangklangston at 6:58 PM on July 17


I'm a horrible person (you can tell by the evil appended to my name) and I mostly rip my music from CD's I borrow from the library. Though I just bought a CD, Harmony of the Spheres (a compilation of like minded artists) because I couldn't find it anywhere. I've got a list of CD's that I will buy eventually for this reason. I prefer listening digitally, for the reasons of convenience, portability, and probably because I'm a nerd. I rip to AIFFS which is essentially a WAV file with metadata. I couldn't tell you if there is any audio reason to prefer it over FLAC but since I'm on a Mac, I can find no audio program better for all of my needs than iTunes, and iTunes doesn't play FLACs. While I hate this, currently there isn't a better choice. I had high hopes for winamp (there was a beta port) but I suspect that's a beautiful dream now.
posted by evilDoug at 7:44 PM on July 17


I'm still buying my music on CD whenever possible, though will concede to the reality on the ground by buying download-only releases when I have to--there's still no physical release of Starcadian's Sunset Blood, for example <shakes fist>. I like actually owning the things I pay money for, and I don't find surfing around for stuff to download anywhere near as much fun as spending a long afternoon digging through the bins. (As others have noted, the digging has gotten really, really good the last few years.)

It's been years since I actually listened to a CD in real-time though. Everything gets ripped six ways from Sunday and ends up on one gadget or another.

stenseng: I can't speak for how things work in the classical-music world but mastering with pre-emphasis was never a common practice for non-classical releases. I'd be surprised if there were more than a few hundred titles that used it, and the practice was over and done with before the '80s were. You do have to keep an eye out for it when ripping discs, though, 'cause those titles are real ear-bleeders if you don't de-emphasize them before listening.
posted by Lazlo Nibble at 10:18 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I'm still searching for the (mythical?) AOL vinyl subscription disk.




"Guyville sounds like it would sound best on reel to reel."

The only prerecorded reel-to-reel tape I ever purchased was "Electric Ladyland".
30-35 years later, I've never been able to recreate the listening pleasure I got
from listening to that album in any other format. It was like sitting in the mixing
room with Hendrix on the other side of the glass.
posted by Chitownfats at 10:38 PM on July 17


I ripped all of my CDs to lossless (ALAC) around 2008 - when 500GB hard disks got cheap enough to make it practical to have a couple of copies of the library. I had about 1200, it took me about 18 months on and off. They are now boxed up in my shed. Have bought very few since (the last I think was Miles Davis' "Dark Magus" which at the time was not available for download.)

The vinyl on the other hand remains on display in my living room. It's not that it's better or anything, it's just orders of magnitude more labour intensive to rip them, I figure it will never happen. I still have a few rarities but it's amazing how good the coverage is from the streaming services these days.
posted by pascal at 12:12 AM on July 18


I buy a mix of CD, direct digital from iTunes, and vinyl today. Mostly digital, probably, because clutter, but I sorta prefer to buy vinyl with a high-bitrate download code if I'm going to have a physical artifact. The CDs I've bought since I got a nice turntable were mostly because the vinyl wasn't ready for the release date, and I didn't feel like waiting.

That said, pretending vinyl sounds empirically "better" than CD at equivalent equipment investment levels is just silly, and I don't think there's yet been a blind test that shows people can reliably tell high-bitrate digital from CD source.

Consequently, the lion's share of actual LISTENING in my house is done digitally. In my office, I use an Airport Express hooked to an Onkyo receiver I bought in 1992. In the living room, it's a much newer Yahama home theater receiver fed by Sonos. In the bedroom, it's a Sonos speaker.
posted by uberchet at 9:04 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


So much vinyl pressed at the height of the CD era feels and sounds like a complete afterthought. It may be different in the realm of 12" singles, but I found most 90s hip-hop full lengths to be nothing but a disappointment. Ditto anything "alternative." If I buy an album from that era on vinyl, it's likely to be a fancypants 20th anniversary reissue. Not that fancypants reissues are a guarantee of quality--lookin' at you Sonic Youth 4XLP sets!
posted by Lorin at 11:29 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Pavement is another good example: for the cost of their discography recently released on vinyl you could get the CDs which have twice as much material, and in my opinion. sound more clear. grumble
posted by Lorin at 11:33 AM on July 18


CD's are a pain in the ass. I had to take all of my CDs out of jewell boxes because they were taking up too damn much space, and now that they're in a folder I barely listen to them. I'm slowly getting around to transcribing then to a hard drive.I couldn't take my CDs to work or the park anyway.

And urea probably because I'm ADHD, but the notion of just sitting around like a sheep passively listening to one song after another saddened by a record producer? That just strikes me as utterly bizarre. I have always hated the idea of lIstening to a half-dozen stupid filler songs before I get to the ones I like, and social media makes that so much easier. I want to flip between different songs from different straits as my impulses change by the minute, now "Fire on High", flipping to "Going Under", then "My Clone Sleeps Alone", then "Up to the Roof", then...I prefer to be a proactive, rather than a passive listener.
posted by happyroach at 4:34 PM on July 18


I have always hated the idea of lIstening to a half-dozen stupid filler songs before I get to the ones I like

Sounds like your complaint is with bands that can't make more than a couple of songs worth listening to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:57 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


evilDoug
I rip to AIFFS which is essentially a WAV file with metadata. I couldn't tell you if there is any audio reason to prefer it over FLAC but since I'm on a Mac, I can find no audio program better for all of my needs than iTunes, and iTunes doesn't play FLACs.
Sir, just to save your poor harddrive I will tell you now that you should be ripping to Apple Lossless (ALAC). It is a lossless compression format based on linear prediction like FLAC so a conversion to and from an AIFF or WAV file results in a bitperfect* copy of the original. It is royalty free and Apple released it as open source under the Apache licence so there's lots of third party support but—more importantly—it's completely supported by iTunes and all of Apple's music-playing devices since 2004.

Plus it's wrapped in an .mp4 container so it affords you the ability to use its extremely flexible metadata structure.

There doesn't really need to be any holy wars on lossless audio formats because there really isn't any lock-in—transmutability between them is nearly frictionless; there's no quality loss and it costs nothing but watts and time and a minor amount of temporary disk space. You can use something like XLD to automatically convert between them or accurately rip CDs against a verified online checksum database.

*Bitperfect enough that you can encode other binary files in an ALAC and recover them. I once sent a DTS bitstream to my receiver over ALAC-converted-to-PCM.
posted by whittaker at 8:03 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure which saddens me more the fact that someone likens listening to an artist's entire album to "just sitting around like a sheep passively listening to one song after another" or the fact that the non-ironic use the word "proactive" is still a thing.
posted by jeffen at 10:25 PM on July 20


Well yeah. I can count on two hands with fingers left over the number of albums that I've listened to in the last forty years that were worth listening to the whole of. I think people are taking album creation as a much too serious ahtiiiiistic process, when it's usually more like making sausage. The basic contention here is that I can't edit an album of music as well as some music producer, when that's clearly not the case.

Also, I come in from the punk era. I just don't have patience for sitting around listening to pretentious bullshit.
posted by happyroach at 12:05 AM on July 21


Again, it sounds like it's the artists you should be mad at, not the producers. I can think of a bunch of old punk albums with no fat to trim.

Random semi-related thought- the last good track on Minor Threat's "Complete Discography" is "Guilty of Being White". That's the last track of the first half, where all the songs want to push you down and punch you in the face repeatedly, and after that the songs slow down and get boring.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 AM on July 21


That is not a good track.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:57 AM on July 21


Also, I come in from the punk era. I just don't have patience for sitting around listening to pretentious bullshit.

My take on so-called punk has always been that it's best experienced live or in single/EP form ... with exceptions, of course. Even a band like the Clash. I've never really listened to the first two albums as wholes, but then come London Calling, it's like they'd taken on an entirely different medium.

But this is a different dynamic than so much "industry" music from over the years, where albums are generally a band/artist trying the same basic trick nine or twelve times, hoping that one or two them might catch on as singles and sucker folks into buying the whole album. And then after a few such lackluster releases, it's time for a Greatest Hits package ...
posted by philip-random at 8:48 AM on July 21


That is not a good track.

Is this about the lyrics or some kind of mistaken idea that musically/vocally that track doesn't rule?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:07 AM on July 21


The massively racist lyrics, mostly.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on July 21


It's a kid singing about getting beat up and hassled in high school over issues he doesn't understand. I'm not saying the lyrics are insightful or unproblematic, but they're not without their context, and that context is "why are people beating me up and saying nasty things to me because I'm white?"
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:28 PM on July 21


Oh shut up. 'Guilty of Being White' is in no way racist and its pretty silly to assert that it is. As Ian said,

"To me, at the time and now, it seemed clear it's an anti-racist song. Of course, it didn't occur to me at the time I wrote it that anybody outside of my twenty or thirty friends who I was singing to would ever have to actually ponder the lyrics or even consider them."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:39 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Well it's definitely not terribly insightful. There's a whole constellation of issues and structures that led to Ian MacKaye getting beat up and hassled in high school for being white. He didn't have the understanding of that, and the lyrics reflect that. I can't imagine a song about the same events would be the same if written today, with a broader perspective.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:50 PM on July 21


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