t’s been a tumultuous year, to say the least. But take heart, good shoppers – the holidays are right around the corner, and with them arrive ample opportunities to not only buy some great music or reading material to distract you, but to divert your family member, friend, or neighbor too. Here are some of the best media gift ideas this season for you to choose from.
The Weeknd – Starboy
Abél Tesfaye is back, ladies and gentlemen, with more of his electro-R&B hooks and those irrepressible beats. The title track/introductory single is an immediate indication that this is going to be another impressive Weeknd effort, from its Michael Jackson Thriller-era organ synth intro to the fact that Tesfaye collaborated with none other than Daft Punk; the whole album is a musically modern fusion that takes The Weeknd’s funky base layer and stacks electronica (“I Feel It Coming”), punk (“False Alarm”) and soul (“Party Monster”) on top, with Tesfaye’s distinctive vocals as the icing.
Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life
One third Eastern European poetry, one third indie-rock, and one third piano-based anti-folk make up the eclectic sound of singer-songwriter Regina Spektor. The Russian-born, NYC-dwelling artist’s albums are always a treasure trove of audio 180s and unexpected lyrical portraits as she veers appealingly between the bizarre and the obvious, the quietly melodic and the emotionally wrought. Highlights on this particular set include the first single “Small Bill$” with its zany, swooping refrain; the cinematic “Sellers of Flowers,” the fast waltz of “Grand Hotel,” and the folky gem “Older and Taller.”
Leonard Cohen – The Essential Leonard Cohen
Amidst the many talents we lost in 2016, Leonard Cohen is right up on the top of the list, as his music, much like David Bowie’s, influenced so very many who came after him. While this is a bittersweet gift, it’s also a thoughtful one for the folk music fan, as this collection brings together so many of the landmark tracks that are part of Cohen’s extensive musical legacy, including “Suzanne,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and of course “Hallelujah.” Cohen, in spite of his wry and often unexpected gift for humor, took his music seriously, and perusing this album over time will reveal his serious complexities as an artist.
Sting – 57th and 9th
Somewhere between classic ‘80s and today’s alternative rock (with a twist of jazz) resides the ageless Sting, whose career has revealed so many facets of his talent it’s tough to guess what he’ll do next. His newest album, though, is easy to decipher; he’s gone back to his rock origins with a set that was studio-recorded in the flurry of just a few weeks. “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and the aggressive “Petrol Head” are the closest to Synchronicity-era Police, while the radio-friendly tunes of “One Fine Day” and “Pretty Young Soldiers” deliver thoughtful subject matter all wrapped up in pop hooks.
Pentatonix – A Pentatonix Christmas
For those who start playing Christmas music as soon as Halloween’s over arrives Pentatonix’s holiday album, lushly produced with their intricate harmonies front and center on classic tunes like “Up on the Housetop” and “Coventry Carol”. The arrangements are often quirky, even though the songs are traditional, which makes for a refreshing break from the usual elevator versions you’ll hear all season. Pentatonix appeals to Millennials because they’re youthful and cool; they’ll appeal to your grandparents, too, because they’re non-offensive, so it’s a win-win no matter who’s in charge of the CD player over the holidays.
Hamilton: The Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda
No matter which side you’re on this year, you can’t deny the Tony Award-winning power of Hamilton, the Broadway musical, and this book expands on how this tale of the real-life kid from the West Indies who later helped found the United States has (literally) struck a chord in audiences. The play fuses theater music and staging with hip-hop and pop, while the book gives you an extensive look into the art and craft of the production via Miranda’s footnotes, fantastic cast photographs, and interviews with everyone from political commentators to the likes of Questlove and Stephen Sondheim.
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrick Bachman
Perfect for both the current uncertain atmosphere in the U.S. and for the holidays is this thought-provoking, often funny, heartwarming character study of the gentleman in the title. He’s a classic curmudgeon whose life is changed by the things that happen to him both early on in life, and later, when new neighbors infuse themselves into his daily existence in a way that perhaps neither of them ever expected. You won’t find R-rated conversations or violence; just an intelligent and witty look into different cultures and ways of communicating, and the impact we all have on each other as people.
by Alton Brown
Brown’s combination of science, food, and one-liners in his shows (both small screen – see Good Eats - and stage) is endlessly entertaining, especially for foodies, and he carries that approach right through to his latest cookbook, which focuses on exactly what the title suggests: food you’ll want every day, not just on special occasions. Brown took the book’s artistically-staged food photos himself with his iPhone (they look great, by the way), and talks you through his techniques, tools of choice, and recipes with his trademark friendly feel, coupled with food facts, personal anecdotes, and yes – good eats.
Born to Run
by Bruce Springsteen
You read that correctly – Springsteen doesn’t just write songs. He’s also penned this memoir, named after the 1975 album that put him on the musical map. For fans of The Boss (or American rock in general), this is the perfect gift choice, as it digs deep into the meaning behind many of Springsteen’s lyrics, his inspirations (including Phil Spector and Roy Orbison), and the many times he needs to, yup, run (via car or motorcycle.) You can almost hear his raspy Jersey voice telling these anecdotes as he progresses from a Beatlemania-affected youth of 14 to a hard-working classic rock laborer navigating the 21st century.
The Night Manager
by John le Carré
Cover three interests for your giftee with one book that offers spy intrigue, television drama, and Tom Hiddleston (well, kinda.) This le Carré novel was the basis for the British miniseries of the same name and it’s easy to see why it was chosen to launch a series. Jonathan Pine (Hiddleston, ‘natch), is a former British soldier turned hotel night manager who becomes an intelligence operative to help vanquish the enemy. This is one sophisticated, interwoven tale that starts after the Cold War and follows a complex underground maze of very bad men as they do what bad men do – cause trouble.