BY JONAS BLANK
For young people especially, Christmas shopping can almost turn the holiday into more of a hassle than it’s worth. Figuring out what to get a long list of friends can be a nightmare, not to mention a route to bankruptcy. The onus is on you to prove you’re not like everybody else, to give someone something they might not buy themselves, but that they might actually want.
Instead of the umpteenth Grateful Dead necktie or clever little knickknack, there is an alternative that’s easy to buy, doesn’t require assembly or sizing, is relatively inexpensive AND lets you express your creativity — music. Chosen properly, a CD that somebody didn’t think to pick up — but should have — can be an ideal way to show you both know a person and want to broaden their artistic horizons a touch.
It’s impossible to know what everybody wants, but here are some suggestions for several sorts of people:
The Indie Rocker:
That’s the guy with the black plastic framed glasses. The one who’s always dressed sloppy-but-chic on a thrift-store budget and may, at any given time, smell like smoke. If he’s any kind of music fan, he’s already heard of The Strokes, the media’s latest New York darlings. But if you want to impress him, try The Dismemberment Plan’s excellent Change, an album that finds the D.C. band’s frenetic, quirky energy taken down a notch in favor of introspective but original songwriting. Or, if he doesn’t already own it, pick up one of this year’s best albums: The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. It’s rock stripped to its essential core, chock-full of the grinding of cheap instruments churning out perfect melodies. Few of its songs clock in at over three minutes, but don’t worry — the album has 16 of them to choose from, and they’re almost universally brilliant.
For the ultimate in cheese, there’s always the new Jewel album. But a purchase that really shows some thought gives her music that, while appealing to women, doesn’t scream, “chick music.” To that end, try Beth Orton’s Central Reservation. It came out two years ago, but the singer-songwriter’s captivating narratives still sound better than most of what’s come out since. You could also get some mileage out of Massive Attack’s 1994 classic, Protection, a trip-hop masterpiece that still manages to sound sexy, catchy and undeniably cool even seven years after its release. For something more current, Tori Amos’ recent covers album, Strange Little Girls, isn’t always the easiest listen, but Tori’s ability to deconstruct such macho detritus as Eminem’s 1997 Bonnie and Clyde or Slayer’s Reigning Blood more than justifies sitting through its more difficult passages.
The Teenage Guy:
His CD rack is probably littered with Limp Bizkit and Blink-182. For something that combines Blink’s pop-punk sensibility with smarter, but still simple songwriting, try Sugarcult’s Start Static. If this had come out in 1993, they’d be bigger than Green Day. Not a song on the album fails to be catchy, relevant and charming, in that very confused male sort of way.
The Teenybopper Girl:
Well, she watches TRL, so there’s not much point aiming very far outside the mainstream. But Madonna now has two greatest hits albums out — including one just released this month — and anyone with ears can tell her stuff is still far better than Britney.
Demystifying techno’s myriad genres is nearly impossible these days. So rather than try to explain to a record store clerk why you need the most up-to-date drum and speed garage 2-step breakbeat bass music, stick with something that’s still virtually genreless: The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, a playful pastiche of fluttering, whirring, bleeping snippets that, when blended, turns downright beautiful. Or if you must stick with pure DJ music, try the more recent installments of the Essential Mix” or Global Underground series, which usually offer high quality, up-to-date mixes by DJs who are probably still somewhere within their 15 minutes of fame.
Boxed sets. For anybody. Think of the obvious: The Doors, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground all have superb collections bearing their names. Oh, and if he’s a sucker for men in leather, KISS just put out a new one, too.
Do not buy your mother a CD. Save your knickknack purchase for her. But if you must, make her feel young again and give her Madonna to show you think she’s kind of hip.
The Mopey Guy:
He’s on his eighth breakup of the year and as many broken hearts, and he’s wept enough to fertilize a garden of willows. Show him you share his pain and send him a copy of Ben Folds’ solo effort, Rockin’ The Suburbs. The modern era’s piano man will help him realize that, yes, there is somebody out there even more pathetic than him.
Your Older Brother/Sister:
They grew up in the ’80s. Remind them that the era is still cool, kinda. For the edgier types, try The Clash’s excellent box set, Clash On Broadway (yes, their best work was in the ’70s, but the influence lived on ….) or a best-of from The Pixies. For more mainstream folks, don’t stray far from best-of collections from the Talking Heads or, yet again, Madonna. Or you could straight up spite them and buy them Michael Jackson’s Invincible, reminding them that people from the ’80s are, like, so old.
The Hip-Hop Head:
For a more mainstream person, don’t overlook Timbaland’s latest offering, Indecent Proposal, where the man who made Missy’s hits thump does some more of his own thing. For someone a bit more into the avant-garde, try Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, where the Harlem duo and producer El P remind us that hip-hop can still be independent, political and uncompromising in the age of Diddy and the Jigga.
The Drug Addict:
If they’ve tried every hallucinogen in the book and are still listening to nothing but Phish, send them Bardo Pond’s trippy, distortion-laden opus Dilate and a few doses of percoset. They’ll never know what hit ’em.
The Beantown Scenester:
Boston is probably best known for crews like Aerosmith and the ska explosion that was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. So be different — serve up The Last Star by Halfcocked, the band’s major label debut. A sonic mutt of ’80s metal and that whole “riot-grrrl” thing that ruled the early ’90s, this album is almost kitschy enough to be timeless.
The Country Fan:
If “country” means Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks to them, try giving them something that puts the twang to better use. Ryan Adams’ Gold is a standout, if nothing else because of its moving ode to New York, and Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft has been hailed as one of his best in years. Neither is really a “country” album, either, so if you hate that stuff, you can listen to these the next time you’re rolling in your friend’s Dodge Ram.
There’s a start. And remember, when in doubt, go to an independent record store and consult a salesperson who actually likes music.
Try a little holiday Sugarcult to satisfy the need for pop-punk sensibility.