Not especially long into this year, I acquired my first computer with a CD-RW drive. The change was as seismic as when I received my first Discman eleven years before. Simply being able to copy a compact disc had unexpectedly grand implications: no more stocking up on analog cassette tapes (often running all over town to find the best deal on this gradually vanishing commodity)! No more patiently sitting and waiting for the dub from disc to tape to be completed in real time! No more worries about whether an album would neatly fit on one side of a 90-minute tape! (I loathed albums that were 46-47 minutes long; on a dub, it was so annoying to have to turn the tape over to get to that last orphaned song). In an exceedingly brief time, I amassed a huge stack of CD-Rs, frequenting libraries far and wide to replace many of the tape dubs I had made since moving to Boston.

If video killed the radio star, then the mix tape was slaughtered by the mix CD. As much as I loved the former, it wasn’t too hard to make the transition. Instead of hours spent crafting out sequences on paper ahead of time and hoping everything would fit tidily on two sides, I could just take the songs I wanted, rip them into my ‘puter, and continually rearrange them in any order. I could even test out the mixes ahead of time before committing to anything permanent. I made my first mix CD for someone I was sorta going out with at the time (he wasn’t worth it), called “Take Your Shoes Off and Throw Them in the Lake” (Kate Bush fans should know where that line’s from). Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I sent CDs to people I’d been making mix tapes for incessantly over the years; I even made one for my mother.

Naturally, CD-Rs aren’t entirely flawless in relation to their analog counterparts: they held less music (more than one-third less than 120-minute cassettes), and, as with the medium in general, something aesthetically appealing was lost when you didn’t have two distinct sides to play around with. Nonetheless, I immediately embraced the new technology, working within the single-side, less-than-eighty-minute parameters to construct something artful and immediate. Still, months later, I was in Milwaukee for nine days, meeting up with my parents and visiting a good friend. I somewhat foolishly brought about 70-80 discs with me (in a large Case Logic notebook), primarily so I could make one last mix tape for my friend on her antiquated boombox.

About a month after I started to make CD-Rs, I received a big cardboard box of discs in the mail. A few weeks before, I had inquired about writing for Splendid, an independent music website that’ll review anything sent to them. I’d submitted two of my own reviews via e-mail, but hadn’t heard whether I got the gig until the box arrived. As a staff writer for the site, I was required to write three reviews per week: one “pick” (300-500 words long, a disc I liked), and two “at a glance” reviews (150-200 words, a disc I didn’t like, or a minor release like a compilation, reissue or tribute album). I tore open and rummaged through my mysterious package. Of the pile of fifteen discs (and press releases) scattered before me, I’d heard of just one band (Arab Strap, whom I only knew by name, not sound). I still remember my first three reviews: Jerry Fels (a DIY-er in the bratty (but amusing) Jonathan Richman mold), Aaron English (okay pianist/songwriter who has listened to Sting’s soundtrack for The Living Sea one too many times) and The Soulthieves (awful, awful bar band from Colorado; I can still remember the melodies to some of their ghastly songs!). Guess which one was the “pick”?

Splendid got me to write on a weekly basis, and thus instilled in me a discipline of the type I had not known since I was a student. And although I had to sift through a lot of a crap (nothing was as execrable as The Soulthieves, despite a band called Shugaazer, which, as my review noted, was soulless, Pro Tool-ed to death hack rock which had nothing whatsoever to do with Ride or My Bloody Valentine), I was exposed to a multitude of musical genres—everything from ambient skronk to Ethiopian jazz. However, it also temporarily (but royally) fucked up the way I listened to music. Making time to absorb three albums per week (never mind the quality) to the point of accumulating enough intelligent stuff to say about each of them was often a maddening task. Along with my rapidly multiplying collection of CD-Rs, it left me with far more music than I knew what to do with. No wonder I didn’t get to hear some of my favorite albums of that year (like The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow or Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' Hearts of Oak) until the following one.

Go back to 2002