"forced, lifeless, wearing, and flat"--Nick Southall* at Stylus proves that modern music sounds shit. The principal culprit is "dynamic range compression", record biz weapon #1 in the loudness wars. At the first EMP conference, Douglas Wolk did a presentation on this very topic, demonstrating the pernicious effects of DRC by playing Led Zep's "Trampled Underfoot" with successive and escalating levels of compression applied to it: you could literally hear all the breath and space being gradually squeezed out of the music.
* an aside to one of Nick's asides: i'm nowhere near him in terms of audiophilia, but it has amazed over the years how many rock critics have really lousy stereos. it's like being a film reviewer and forgetting to wear your glasses before heading out to the screening.