Sure, cooking the turkey so that it’s not underdone and not too dry is difficult enough. But the hardest thing about Thanksgiving Day with your family is, inevitably, the music. Your parents want something dire from the ’70s, like Neil Diamond or Creedence; that cousin from Jersey who you never speak to has somehow heard that you “like music” and wants to play you the new Nickelback record; and your kid sister keeps demanding to connect up her iPod to the stereo so she can play her Miley Cyrus record. Argh. So let us help out with a selection of Thanksgiving records that’ll at least placate your folks, and hopefully Jersey cousin too — you might need to just lend kid sister your headphones and hope for the best, though.
Leonard Cohen — Ten New Songs
If your folks are the same age as ours, they’re probably familiar with Cohen’s work from the ’60s and ’70s, but they may also have spaced on his late-career renaissance. Ten New Songs was the album that marked his return to music and to the world in general, the record that catalogued his descent from the mountain where he spent most of the 1990s in seclusion as a Buddhist monk. It even has the occasional upbeat moment (specifically “Boogie Street,” which, although it’s probably still the most downbeat song ever to include the word “Boogie” in its title, is positively jaunty as far as Cohen goes).
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — No More Shall We Part
Less morose than The Boatman’s Call, less beige than Nocturama… this is probably the most accessible record of Cave’s piano ballad phase, and as such it’s probably the one the parents are most likely to go for. Just make sure you let loose with a strategic cough or two during the bit in “Darker With the Day” where Cave gripes about how the streets “groan with little Caesars, Napoleons and cunts/ With their building blocks and their tiny plastic phones.”
Martha Wainwright — Martha Wainwright
If the folks are into the likes of Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez — or, even better, if they were actually fans of Loudon Wanwright and/or the McGarrigle sisters’ work back in the day — then Martha Wainwright’s first album is a shoo-in for this playlist. Mind you, you’ll need another strategic cough during the line about the “chick with the dick” during “Factory,” and an entire strategic coughing fit during “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” (Or you could just program the CD player to skip that particular song, although it’s also the track most likely to placate Jersey cousin. Curses.)
Brian Eno — Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks
Actually, to save yourself the necessity for any further strategic coughing eruptions, instrumental music could be a good plan here. The trick is finding something that’s neither too abrasive (sorry, Glenn Branca, but this isn’t gonna work out) nor too sleepy. Our pick for striking the perfect balance is Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, which shares the same quiet, stately beauty as some of Eno’s other ambient works, but is somewhat more melodic and less abstract than, say, Music for Airports. Some Ennio Morricone or Angelo Badalamenti could work here, too. (Also, we have no idea why YouTube wants to play you porn once the above video’s finished. Sorry.)
The Crayon Fields — All the Pleasures of the World
We’re not so sure that Jersey cousin would dig on Crayon Fields, but frankly, we probably already lost him with the Eno record — see, he’s gone out the front to smoke a cigarette and talk to your uncle about the NFL. That means it could well be time to put on this record, which is pretty much made for lounging on the couch with the cat after an epic meal. Excellent.
Cat Power — The Covers Record
Cover versions are generally good for these situations, as there’s at least some recognition factor to counterbalance the fact that the woman singing them sounds like she might hide under the piano at any moment. Bonus points, of course, if your folks are fans of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or any of the other artists covered here.
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan — Sunday at Devil Dirt
“See, mum? They sound just like Lee and Nancy. What? No, I’m pretty sure he’s not on drugs. He’s just… tired.”
Radar Bros. — Fallen Leaf Pages
This is a quintessentially autumn album, as if the title wasn’t a dead giveaway. It’s got a lovelorn beauty that captures the atmosphere of the season perfectly, an album shot through with music that’s perfect for soundtracking a walk outside just as the sun’s starting to decline and the air’s turning chilly. Trample through the piles of dry leaves, watch as your breath turns to mist, and then head back inside for dessert.
Jenny Wilson — Hardships!
If you need to pick up the pace a little bit once the turkey’s been devoured and the mulled wine is starting to kick in, you could do worse than one of our favorite pop records of the last few years. The absence of Auto-Tune and/or any overtly “computer” sounds should tilt your parents’ opinion in favor — and hey, it might even tempt your kid sister away from Miley for a moment!
The xx — XX
Oh, go on. You know that this has become the 21st century’s answer to Portishead’s Dummy, a perfectly good album destined to be ruined forever by the number of times you hear it soundtracking dinner parties. Just surrender to the inevitable.