I’m not one to jumpstart holiday season. For the previous nine years, I’ve left Christmas shopping until December 23rd – and if it weren’t for my annual Christmas Eve flight, I’d likely wait another day. As of now, I haven’t even begun making my Christmas list, on which I assign gift ideas to relatives. This usually occurs on December 22nd. Fortunately, my unquestionably kinder and more responsible older sister texted me earlier this week, asking if a certain member of our family would or would not like a couple of albums she was considering gifting them (I can’t get too specific for obvious reasons, unless I want a lump of coal for Xmas for ruining surprises).
In 2017, buying an album for someone’s Christmas present is a little weird. A staggering number of listeners can find the music they want via streaming services, and though the vinyl industry has made a robust comeback, my sister is not talking about vinyl.
In my family, a CD is still a 100% acceptable gift to give and receive. My dad still has two wooden shelves of them, towering next to his vinyl collection in the dining room-cum-office. His collection is growing, too, as a favorite weekend pastime of his involves visiting the bargain bins at the local Silver Platters. He typically gives me a report of any new purchases, including how big of a deal he scored.
In a way, the CD has simplified gift giving in my family. It’s cheaper (and more flight-friendly) than vinyl. Sure, it’s more expensive than an MP3, but you can’t exactly wrap an MP3, now can you? Regardless of your family’s preferred musical medium, here is a shopping list of new albums for the whole family: from moms to dads, brothers to cats.
Mom: Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne
My mom would probably prefer the new Quiet Riot record, but I’m not going to recommend that for your mom, who is probably a far classier lady. Julie Byrne’s sophomore album Not Even Happiness is, dare I say, indisputably gorgeous. Byrne’s lyrics are devastating and poignant, formed from her wind-song voice. Mom can do about anything to this record: drive, read a book, sip some wine, or simply listen intently on a Sunday evening.
Dad: Semper Femina by Laura Marling
I’d say it’s a pretty good time for men to listen to overtly feminist music, and this is a great feminist record by brilliant songwriter Laura Marling. Marling’s writing expertise matches her guitar playing and steely-sweet voice, of which she has astonishing control. She can reach soprano heights in one bar, and plumb the depths of early Fiona Apple in the next. Songs like “Wild Fire” and “Nothing, Not Nearly” codify Marling as a master of the craft, weaving soul, folk, and pure poetry into accessible pop melodies.
Sister: Ash by Ibeyi
A record of, by, and for sisters, brought to you by Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. The French-Venezuelan Afro-Cuban twins give a whole new meaning to the word “sisterhood” considering their highly collaborative songwriting process. Ash, the duo’s sophomore LP, is steeped in messages of racial equality and female empowerment, the later shining through in cuts like “No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms” which features samples from a Michelle Obama speech. “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls,” Obama insists. I’m sure your sister (and hopefully your entire family) will agree.
Brother: DAMN by Kendrick Lamar
This record needs no introduction, nor explanation. Kendrick has done it again! Plus, gifting this to your brother ensures great one-liners to pen inside the corresponding card. For example: “Why don’t you already own this, are you living under a rock?” and “Bitch, be humble.”
Aunt who’s into crystals: A Common Truth by Saltland
One of my all-time favorite joke-news headlines read: “Local Woman Believes In Crystals But Not Herself,” a hilarious dig, but one you have to shelve during the holidays. In all seriousness, Saltland’s atmospheric A Common Truth is both a stunning record and a perfect present for someone who’s into “vibes.” Cellist Rebecca Foon collages rippling soundscapes atop sparse vocals extolling environmental preservation. Also, there is literally a crystal on the album cover.
Uncle who rides a Harley: Villains by Queens of the Stone Age
I’m not going to lie, I’m not a big Queens of the Stone Age fan, and I don’t love this record… but your uncle will. Just imagine him ripping open the wrapping paper to find a dude in a motorcycle jacket and the devil himself riding on the back of his bike. He will undoubtedly shout “bitchin’!” and take you out for a spin before dinner.
Your significant other Your Ex: ÷ by Ed Sheeran
Step one: burn Sheeran’s insufferable third album onto a blank CD. Step two: write, “Best Bands of 2017” on the disk in sharpie, mixtape style. Step three: send it anonymously. Hopefully it will take your ex a while to realize he’s been listening to Ed Sheeran unwillingly.
Your Cat: Music For Cats by David Teie
A record designed to please Mr. and Ms. Kitty. David Teie, a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, developed Music For Cats with animal scientists. The result is a lovely mélange of string swells, birdsong, and of course, purring. Though it’s “for cats,” it’s a score I’d be happy to listen to with or without a feline companion. The standout track? “Katey Moss Catwalk,” of course.