Sights and Sounds - The Best Music and Books for Holiday Gift Giving 2015

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 819   By: Kristi Kates

26th November, 2015     0

Whether you prefer your entertainment on digital media, CD, paper, or e-ink, we’ve got a dozen solid gift-giving ideas from the book and music departments for just about everyone on your list.

 

MUSIC PICKS

Adele25
Of course we have to start with one of the biggest album releases of the year. Adele Laurie Blue Adkins appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2008, released two stunning albums, and then vanished in a sweep of eyeliner and one last ringing, soulful note to pursue the private life for a few years. But the music continued to call, and now Adele’s back with 25, a striking set that includes collaborations with Ryan Tedder and Bruno Mars, who serve as talented backdrops to Adele’s vocals. Its debut single may have been “Hello,” but it’ll be a long time before you say goodbye to this album.

Ryan Adams1989
Artists often cover a song or two of another artist they admire. But it’s not often that a musician tackles a revamp of an entire album – and especially not a brand new album. But singer-songwriter Adams often veers from the mainstream, and this is only one example of how he’s worked that approach impressively. He took all of Taylor Swift’s 1989 and basically un-popped it, sifting it through a filter of folk, Springsteen, angst, and acoustic sounds, with Adams’ introspective vocals adding heft, edge-of-town darkness, and a whole new POV to tracks like “Out of the Woods” and “Blank Space.”

Various ArtistsGuardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Tape Vol. I
If you’re looking to gift some super-fun sounds, check out this soundtrack, a sure bet for the retro music fan on your gift list (or the Marvel fan, for that matter.) Opening with the weirdly catchy (novelty?) mid-‘70s tune “Hooked on a Feeling,” the album is a grab bag of vintage pop tracks from The Raspberries to The Five Stairsteps to the Jackson Five, plus a spacey David Bowie track (“Moonage Daydream”) that’s a perfect fit with the film. And if you don’t start dancing at least a little bit to The Jackson’s “I Want You Back,” you’ll have to have a little talk with Rocket Raccoon.

New Order Music Complete

Speaking of retro music, we’re hopping from the ‘70s to the ‘80s with this next album, the latest from New Order, the English kings of post-rock synth-pop who finally returned this past September with new material. While this is their first effort without longtime bass player Peter Hook, New Order’s sound doesn’t seem to have suffered much; this is a sharp, fresh-sounding collection with loads of special guests that brings a new modernism to new wave. Highlights include “Superheated” with The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Iggy Pop on “Stray Dog,” and backing vox by La Roux’s Elly Jackson.

Wilco - What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014
Indie-rock, a little folk, some alt-country, a bit of Americana – Wilco’s run the gamut throughout their career to date, and this celebratory album assembles a selection of tunes from all eight studio albums, a great gift for both current fans and those who have yet to discover the way Wilco’s sound draws you right in. This cross-section shows off the band’s rootsy beginnings, their more experimental tunes, and their nostalgic phase via songs like the road-trippy “Passenger Side,” the slightly punky “Outtasite,” and the melodic/lyrical hooks of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”

Muse Drones
This is futuristic, sleek rock of the most paranoid kind, with frontman Matthew Bellamy and his British bandmates singing of government control, robot armies, dystopian civilizations, and gloomy yet cinematic calls to battle. If Muse were a movie, they’d be a massive sci-fi epic with a soundtrack that included songs from U2’s ‘80s albums, Queen, and a more aggressive, even more futuristic Radiohead. Highlights include “Mercy” with its watery, startled piano lines and towering vocals; the punchy dronings of “Psycho”; and the rubberband guitars of “Defector.” Rock on, Santa!

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BOOK PICKS

Seveneves - Neal Stephenson
It’s no secret that Seveneves begins with a moon that’s broken apart, its fragments hovering over an Earth now suddenly faced with a brand new kind of danger called the Hard Rain (we’ve got debris!) The part you’ll be enthusiastically turning pages to find out about is what happens to the people who need to dodge the Rain – and how they’re going to do it. A mix of physics and space terminology elevate the story from one of humankind into a secondary level of sci-fi details, and the concept of the seveneves is one you’ll sure to be discussing at length with anyone who’s read the book.

The Boys in the BoatDaniel James Brown
Set in the middle of the Great Depression and centered around the real-life character of Joe Rantz, an abandoned farm boy, this true story is a tale of working-class heroes who joined forces to become one focused, determined team, competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a rowing team (against Hitler’s own well-honed competitors) and in the process finding places for themselves in a worn-down America and in the world. This isn’t merely a story for sports fans; it’s for everyone who loves a good underdog story, a tale about lessons learned, or a well-told allegory about never giving up.

The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
With the final Hunger Games movie arriving right before the holidays, this is a great time to either gift the entire trilogy of books to an existing fan, or introduce them to someone who may only be familiar with the films. Katniss Everdeen is a heroine unlike many in modern literature; she’s not a tomboy, nor does she lean the other direction to rely on seduction. She’s simply a strong girl who admits she’s still learning about life, but has figured out how to call on her own inner resources when the fire closes in. A strong cast of supporting characters and a vividly written world make this a big winner.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpMarie Kondo
This is a terrific gift choice for anyone who enjoys utilizing the new year as a chance for a fresh start. Kondo’s philosophy, nicknamed “KonMari,” is to only surround yourself with things that truly make you happy, or “spark joy,” and she outlines a simple reorganization plan from an Eastern perspective as a unique way to declutter your belongings, embrace minimalism (or at least get partway there), and make your environment a more tranquil place. The really interesting thing about this approach is that much of the method as Kondo explains it could also be used as a metaphor for life in general.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin

Much has been said (well, complained about) in regards to when Martin will pen the next book in the Game of Thrones series. We don’t have an answer for you on that one, but while you or your giftee wait on pins and needles, take a read of this tome, a compilation of the three prequel novellas to Thrones that take place a century before. These books hinge on the friendship of the characters Dunk and Egg (a knight-squire buddy pairing) and is as much a character study as it is a fascinating peek into the world that existed before the Thrones gang started getting into so much trouble.

Bond by Design – DK

Finally, for the guys on your list (or the female spies who love them) arrives this comprehensive art book showcasing many of the design elements behind the 50-year, 21-installment James Bond film series, from Dr. No right up through 2012’s Skyfall. Here’s where you’ll find location sketches and plans for both Bond’s exotic apartments and the evil villains’ lairs, colorful drawings of costumes, and of course behind-the-design peeks at all kinds of agent gadgets and car trickery used in the movies. It’s also interesting to notice the shift from pen and pencil drawings to the later computer graphics.

 

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