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Friday, August 10, 2012

Beck's Sheet Music Album: Five Especially Awkward Music Delivery Mechanisms

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 7:22 AM

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3. Super Audio CD. You might have seen one of these if you have a friend who buys Monster cables and worries about room acoustics and has a special Playstation for playing CDs. If you don't have one of those friends, try not to get one.

2. HitClips. Next time someone you know makes a where-are-the-flying-cars complaint, remind him that in 1999 the primary music delivery mechanism for nine-year-olds was HitClips, little memory cards that gave you about a minute of your favorite Smash Mouth song in sub-ringtone quality. (If you value your audiophile friend, do not let him listen to a HitClip.)

Now nine-year-olds have iPod Touches, which are faster (and higher resolution) than the computer you were using Napster on in 1999. Also, they don't know who Smash Mouth is. HitClips were really 1999's best advertisement for cassette players -- though, in their defense, they're probably too difficult to reproduce to ever be affixed to an issue of The Believer.

1. Sheet music. Album-rock nostalgia is bad enough when it leads solemn-faced critics to declare the Death of Music every time somebody buys the three good songs from a Foo Fighters album instead of listening to the record in sequence. When it leads to press-release-sentences like this one:

Song Reader is an experiment in what an album can be at the end of 2012 -- an alternative that enlists the listener in the tone of every track, and that's as visually absorbing as a dozen gatefold LPs put together.

It's positively unbearable. Don't get me wrong: I love the project itself. The set is bound to be beautifully designed and great to look at, like everything else McSweeney's puts out, and it's a fascinating art project that's going to produce a million YouTube videos. But this has about as much to do with what an album can be ~ at the end of 2012 ~ as that HitClips commercial.

If there's a future for the album as an indivisible unit of music measurement, it's on Bandcamp, not inside a piano bench; I can't begrudge anybody their round-the-piano nostalgia or their attempt to get people to pay for music, but when the release-date buzz settles I'll probably just wish I was listening to Beck.

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