(One of the occasional cantakerous outbursts which you've come to expect from me:)
CNN has just posted a list of "the best albums you didn't hear" in 2004. While the list is, I suppose, decently broad (Tegan and Sara bore the fuck out of me, but it's cool to see Isis in a place like this, I suppose), it's the trope itself that gets to me. It's a trope you see every year in mainstreamish publications (including, in the past, the New York Times, whose arts coverage I otherwise respect, and who I believe have moved away from the best-you-didn't-hear format), and it never fails to rankle me.
It's condescending, for starters. But moreover, it's incredibly myopic, because it fails to ask why people didn't hear this music. It goes on the assumption, I suppose, that such music wasn't covered on mainstream radio, but in the age of P2P, iTunes, CD-burning, satellite radio, and services like Last FM, that's a lazy argument. What these critics really mean to say is, "Music we didn't write about this year" – which has nothing to do with the market, and everything to do with their own disinclination to cover anything that's not already common knowledge. If these publications covered non-ubiquitous material in the first place, instead of waiting for the tokenistic, year-end column (which is really just a bit of candy thrown down to keep the writer happy, isn't it?), well, we wouldn't have the problem of underexposure in the first place, would we?
(Let it be said that the New York Times, and Kelefa Sanneh in particular, has done a bang-up job of mixing up top-of-the-charts pop coverage with things most readers really won't find anywhere else, like Ada or Ricardo Villalobos; and Blender's review section can be great as well, and of course the alt-weeklies are generally good places to discover new music. But the lesson that mainstream media ought to be taking from people like MP3 bloggers is this: readers actually want to read about things they don't already know about, in addition to gossip on celebrities with whom they're well familiar. Wouldn't it be nice if music magazines started breaking artists again, instead of waiting for the competition, not to mention a massive PR push and appearances on SNL, to confirm their worth?)