(As the year winds down, so shall this project. I’m finding it difficult to write about the near-present; I feel like I need more distance, more time to process how my tastes/habits have changed. Nonetheless, every autobiography needs a conclusion.)

By early 2004, I’ve fallen into a routine: for Splendid, I receive a box of CDs every five or six weeks. I rummage through them, looking for artists I’ve heard of (or think I should know), going to Google or AllMusic to ferret out genres, discographies, running times, release dates, trying to determine what could be a pick; after all, ideally, I was supposed to like one-third of what was sent to me. Ah, if only that were the case. Sure, occasionally (and seemingly from out of nowhere), I found a life-changing gem like Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans (which ended up my favorite album of that year). For the most part, though, it was a tough slough. For every A.C. Newman or Bobby Bare, Jr., there was a Billy Johnson’s Roadshow or a Mimi Ferocious. By the end of that summer, I realized I no longer enjoyed the weekly schedule, the time diligently spent researching each artist, or even most of the music itself. Guiltily, I resigned as my latest box o’ discs ran out.

In the time since, I have not written regularly about music for any other publication (although I spent most of 2004 counting down my top 100 LPs of all time in a separate blog). That’s not to say I’ll never do it again—just not something as rigorous and ridiculously comprehensive as Splendid was, were every artist of every stripe was deemed worthy of a review. It was a neat concept, but apparently not one sustainable forever: as I write this, Splendid is ceasing publication, its editors taking a hiatus, hopefully to return with a new site sometime in 2006.

Left with an excess of free time to always listen to whatever the fuck I wanted to, I’d ritually go through my music collection once a week, fill up my little 24-disc notebook, and take it into work with me, making sure I played everything once. Around this time, I discovered how easy it was to request items on reserve from the public library network: potentially thousands of discs at my fingertips. I caught up on all the great new music I missed while reviewing, and began checking the network’s website first before deciding whether I should buy something new (or used) at a record store.

As 2004 dissolved into 2005, I started using iTunes, first at work, then at home. I built up thousand-song libraries at each, reveling at how easy and fun it made making mixes. Then, I received an iPod for Christmas. Over the past year, it’s significantly altered the way I listen to music. Don’t get me wrong, I still love albums and the value of hearing one in the order its creators intended, from beginning to end. But iTunes introduced and encouraged the pleasure of hearing a random shuffle of songs, the thrill of not knowing what’s coming next, the happy accidents resulting from hearing two tracks you would never have thought of putting next to each other before.

I’m starting to feel alienated from current popular music more than ever: scanning over the Billboard charts, I increasingly don’t recognize most of the hit songs or those strange beings performing them. I guess it’s inevitable, becoming ever more the iconoclast as I age. Still, I have to believe that as music and the technology used to acquire and hear it rapidly changes, my tastes and perception of music will similarly evolve. Although I ended up pursuing a career in film, for me, music is more essential and personal. I can’t imagine a life without it—I’ll see one of my favorite films once every six or twelve months (or even less often than that) and glean a sense of satisfaction, but I can put my favorite songs or albums or mixes on repeat until they seep into my unconscious. And they never get old.

Go back to 2003