Via Sasha, a fascinating article on why modern pop records are, to quote the Grawemeyer Award-winning composer Harrison Birtwistle, "so effing loud." I've taken a lot of post-Oasis pop off my iPod because the contrasts in loudness are so irritating. If the machine is on shuffle play, I'll be deafened by a switch from Josquin to Justin, even when the volume is set relatively low. [The iTunes Sound Check feature, which supposedly puts everything on the same level, doesn't seem to solve the problem.] This practice is to music as steroids is to sports. I haven't noticed excessive decibel-boosting on classical releases, but the same syndrome may be at work in live performance: everyone knows orchestras play louder than they ever used to, and concert-hall designers are favoring super-bright acoustics.
Update: Reader Akimon points out that you can create special settings in the iTunes preamp area ("Quiet Oasis," for example) and apply these to large tracts of your library, putting a lid on the rampant compression.