Each year around this time, I put together a “last minute” list of cool things meant to aid the friends and loved ones of rock snobs and especially hard-to-buy-for people-who-have-everything during the holiday season. I would imagine that I’m probably in the top 1% of the top 1% of the infuriatingly difficult to gift—trust me, I already own it and I probably got it for free from a record label—so I feel uniquely qualified to be of assistance here.
The mammoth, slick, classy, near definitive career-spanning 10-CD Marc Almond package, Trials of Eyeliner: The Anthology 1979-2016, is easily the very best box set of the year. Hell, it’s one of the best box sets ever released, period, if you ask me. From Soft Cell’s greatest hits to each and every one of Almond’s single releases, some hidden gems, collaborations and demos, this is the ultimate Marc Almond collection. Why would this make a good gift and for whom? For a gay uncle or brother who loves music, it’s a solid choice, but it’s a great pick for anyone who loves music, really. Marc Almond is a genius, one of our greatest living vocalists and this is a box set to lose yourself in, a true musical journey and an exceeding rare pleasure to discover for the very first time. For someone whose musical tastes would intersect favorably in a Venn diagram triangulated by Nick Cave, Scott Walker and Maria Callas. It’s also not that expensive for a 10-CD set, often selling on Amazon for around $60. It would be a bargain at ten times the price. Here’s a longer review.
Action Time Vision, a new 111-track “story of independent punk 1976-79” from Cherry Red Records is the sole obscure punk box set that anyone will care about in the future. Let’s face it, once you get much beyond the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash—and precious few others—there wasn’t really a whole lot of truly great punk rock music that was produced during the punk rock era. What came after punk was a deluge of amazement and creativity, whereas the vast majority of “classic” punk bands, well the essential “A list” stuff could be rounded up into one good box set. Action Time Vision is the onion layer beyond that one good box set, boasting material not from all the usual suspects. Some of this stuff is truly thrilling and will send your rock snob giftee (or you yourself, if that’s who you’re buying for) spanning out to look for more from below-the-radar groups like the Hollywood Brats, Poison Girls, Swell Maps, Rezillos and others.
For someone who you are fond of, but not so fond of them that they merit a freakin’ box set, may I (strongly) suggest Beyond the Bloodhounds, the debut album by the incredible new talent, Adia Victoria? Earlier this year I described her music as “an authentic 21st century Southern gothic blues” and asked “Would you press play if I described Adia Victoria as ‘Jeffrey Lee Pierce reincarnated as Ronnie Spector’?” before answering my own question: “You’d be a fucking idiot if you didn’t, now wouldn’t you?” When a new artist arrives this fully formed, you should pay attention. This one has the makings of a future icon. She’s gorgeous and she plays a mean guitar. By a narrow margin, I rank Beyond the Bloodhounds as my top favorite album of 2016. A+.
Just one half-notch below Adia Victoria’s debut comes Häxan, the new longplayer from Dungen. I was nuts—absolutely crazy—about last year’s Dungen alum, Allas Sak, and I pretty enthusiastic about this one too. Dungen can do no wrong in my eyes, each and every one of their albums is a thing of finely crafted beauty, something I hope they themselves are fiercely proud of, because they should be. Dungen make beautiful music for a world that needs more beautiful things. Häxan is their soundtrack to the Russian silent animated feature film from 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed. It’s pure magic from the first note to the last. Note that this would be something especially good to get on vinyl.
Then there’s the latest from Luke Haines, Smash the System. This album fucking rocks and contains the very best song of 2016: “Black Bunny (I’m Not Vince Taylor).” In fact, let me offer you the best musical advice I could possibly offer you: Buy every album by The Auteurs and every solo album by Haines (and his books). Start with After Murder Park, then get New Wave or How I Learned to Love the Bootboys. Don’t miss out on the oddball terrorist punk funk of the Baader-Meinhof album. But get ALL of Luke Haines’ output, first for yourself, and only then should you worry about other people. You’re welcome.
The three CD Momus collection, Pubic Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 is another sure-thing, cast miss, all-killer, no-filler that will delight just about any rock snob. The smarter they are, the better they’ll appreciate what the eyepatch wearing Scotsman has on offer culled from the past 30 years of his output. Momus is not a household name, although he should be. If I didn’t already own this and someone gave it to me, I would not only be super happy, I would think that it reflected well on the giver’s musical tastes. (More on Momus here)
Rhino recently released an “elevated edition” of Jethro Tull’s mighty Stand Up album remixed for 5.1 surround by Steven Wilson. If you have someone on your shopping list who is an aficionado of 5.1 music (or happen to be one yourself) this is another must-hear effort from Wilson’s audio lab. I was already a big fan of Stand Up, but in surround, it’s simply sublime. Even better the edition—which comes packaged like a hardback book—includes a 5.1 mix of their classic “Living in the Past” single and DVD footage of the group playing live in Sweden in 1969
In terms of books, there’s only one that I’m going to recommend this year and that is The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell edited by Douglas Walla. This is the best art book of 2016, and to my mind there can no other competition. How could anything else possibly outweigh it? Nothing can. A stunning compendium of beautiful art and ideas by the late visionary artist. There’s no one with a brain who wouldn’t be thrilled to get this for Christmas.
Movie posters make awesome gifts and they show that you’ve really thought about the person you’re giving it to (provided of course, that you did really think about them and didn’t just buy a ratty Home Alone 2 poster on your way home from work from a homeless guy.) My favorite poster store on the entire Internet, the Los Angeles-based Westgate Gallery is currently running a big 40% off sale (that’s almost half off) which continues into the new year so you can spend your “Christmas money” on exquisite poster art curated by someone with a particularly good eye. If you know a movie, or a particular actor or actress that your intended giftee is into, something from Westgate Gallery during their 40% off sale would make a fantastic gift. Hundreds upon hundreds of amazing images there, you can surf around for hours. Featuring a large selection of Italian Giallo, “golden age of XXX” and cult film favorites.
Which brings me to DVDs. This year if I had to pick the sort of offbeat film that I would be happy to get on DVD, I’d chose Candy, the star-studded adaptation of the Terry Southern-Mason Hoffenberg farce—yes it’s a terrible movie but the cast includes Ringo Starr, James Coburn, John Astin, Richard Burton, Walter Matthau and Marlon Brando as the horny guru Grindl. And then there’s Otto Preminger’s Skidoo, a Hollywood attempt at a counterculture comedy where Jackie Gleason plays a retired mod hitman who accidentally takes LSD and Groucho Marx is “God.” It costars Carol Channing and most of the unemployed villains from TV’s Batman. Nilsson did the soundtrack and—get this—sings the credits. But I had you at Jackie Gleason dropping acid, didn’t I?
More after the jump…