‘Tis the season to be spending money you don’t have on consumer items, and spending the rest of the next year paying off your credit card bills. Merry Christmas, everyone! But if there’s a music lover on your list of people to get gifts for, you can at least rest happily in the knowledge that some of your cash has gone toward buying something you’d want for yourself. Or, of course, you can eschew the whole gifting thing and just buy some of this stuff for yourself. Either way, here are some of the things that hit the shelves this year that’d totally be on our Christmas list if someone was buying for us. Hint, hint.
Leonard Cohen — The Complete Studio Albums Collection
This has rather slipped under our radar, and seems to have slipped beneath everyone else’s too. It’s a box set of all Leonard Cohen’s studio albums, from 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen right up to 2004’s Dear Heather. This is all well and good, but the thing is that these aren’t just reissues of albums that should be in your collection anyway — they’re also remasters, a fact which hasn’t exactly been trumpeted by the Sony marketing department (it gets a quiet mention on definitive Cohen website The Leonard Cohen Files, but that’s about it). Anyway, this fact definitely makes the set worth a look, even if you own these albums already, and especially since the thing’s a steal at about $6 an album. If you’re feeling extravagant, there’s also a 17-album set that includes all Cohen’s live records and a 36-page booklet.
Retromania by Simon Reynolds
Bono once sang, “You glorify the past when the future dries up.” (He sang it in the context of a lyric that was basically an imaginary sequel to a John Lennon song, but still.) Anyway, the fact that culture repeats itself in increasingly predictable 20-year cycles is the cue for Simon Reynolds to ask whether our future is drying up — or, at least, whether rock’n’roll has run out of ideas, and if so, what that means for originality in the 21st century. Whether contemporary music’s current penchant for autophagia is a passing phase or a sign that it’s a dying art form is very much open for debate, but Retromania does a fine job of examining that debate — and as with all Reynolds’ work, it’ll be received enthusiastically by the music geek in your life (who’ll probably want to argue about it for the rest of Christmas day).
This Mortal Coil — This Mortal Coil
All three This Mortal Coil albums, remastered on swanky new HDCDs and packaged in a big old box set with a bonus disc of singles and unreleased rarities? Yes please. That’ll do very nicely indeed.
Throwing Muses — Anthology
Also from the vaults of 4AD, this is a long-overdue retrospective for one of our favorite bands. It comprises two discs — the first a pretty exhaustive best-of selection, and the second a compilation of b-sides and rarities — along with a hardback book with commentary from Kristin Hersh. The tracklist on the first disc is of particular interest — it’s not just a “greatest hits” type thing (there’s no “Counting Backwards,” for instance) but rather the band’s selection of songs that they feel best encapsulate their sound and philosophy.
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes
Many, many books have been written about the music scene in New York about the mid-1970s, but if you’re wondering whether there’s room for one more, then wonder no longer. Crucially, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire avoids just talking about CBGB and the genesis of punk, choosing to focus instead on the whole picture of what was going on in the city during those years of unprecedented cultural fertility — Hermes writes about everything from the jazz scene to the rise of disco to underground salsa parties. Our deputy editor/musical polymath Judy Berman is reading this as we speak, and comments as follows: “Not gonna lie: The book will definitely make you long for New York in the ’70s.” Curses. As if we weren’t disillusioned enough with New York in 2011 as it was.
of Montreal — Cassette Box Set
The enduringly idiosyncratic Athens, GA collective is one of those bands that tends to inspire hugely obsessive fans — and if you happen to know one such individual, then here’s what you need to buy them. This box set contains cassette copies of each of the band’s ten studio albums to date, along with artwork by David Barnes (who’s done the lion’s share of the band’s cover art over the years), and it’s limited to only 500 copies, so you can be sure that pretty much no one else will have one.
REM have had best-ofs before, of course — there was the 1991 IRS Records singles collection that followed their defection to Warner, and Warner’s own best-of compilation In Time, released in 2003. Happily, though, this posthumous retrospective unites the two phases of the band’s career, making it a decent present for the casual REM fan who’s suddenly discovering how much he/she misses the band now they’ve broken up.
Le Freak by Nile Rodgers
When mclusky sang of “taking more drugs than a touring funk band,” they probably had Parliament/Funkadelic in mind — but they could just as easily have been thinking about Chic, who were responsible for all-time disco/funk classic “Le Freak” and also for hoovering enough cocaine to make Elton John nervous. Given main man Nile Rodgers’ upbringing, it’s hardly a surprise — his parents were bohemian junkies, and he was out of home by 16, ending up as the party-starter-in-residence at Studio 54 and the producer of some of the era’s biggest hits, both for his own band and for others (he produced Madonna’s Like a Virgin and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, amongst many others). He tells his story with candor and no little wit in Le Freak, making it one of the year’s more entertaining and engaging musical memoirs.
Nirvana — Nevermind Deluxe Edition
No, we’re not going to omit this, even though our inner punk wonders what Kurt Cobain would have made of such an epic cash-in on his band’s legacy. If nothing else, this is probably worth it for the photo book and the live videos.
Can — Tago Mago
If anyone has had a pang of conscience and wants to make amends for some nasty thing they’ve said in the comments section this year by buying us something nice for Christmas, this reissue of Can’s still-astonishing 1971 LP will do just fine. (We’re quite happy to hold out for the complete album set and Lost Tapes box set next year, too.) Thanks!