The Gift Guide
Published: November 24, 2010
Contributors: W.K Heron, Brian Smith, Michael Jackman, Bill Holdship, Michael Gallucci, Nathan Phillips, Megan O’Neil, Dennis Shea, Norene Smith, Tim Hill, Travis R. Wright, Bret McCabe
Funk & Soul Covers
Joaquim Paulo and Julius Wiedemann
Taschen, $40, 432 pages
You want to get a gift for someone who loves music, but it's like they've already heard or own everything you throw at them. They're kind of funky. They own a record player. When they hear the name Foxy Brown, they think voluptuous '70s sultress Pam Grier, not the ill-fated '90s rap nymph. Though they know her catalog too. If you were in New York and wound up on the trivia show Cash Cab and didn't know the answer to a music-related question, this person would obviously be your "phone a friend" selection. They need this funktastic collection. It's another hardbound home run hit from Taschen. The book has more than 500 phenomenal funk and soul record covers to consider. We get the art and the story behind it. Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson are covered, as are the Temptations, Earth, Wind & Fire, James Brown, Prince, P-Funk and many more. These records were produced in an era when albums were king, and their 12 inch-by-12 inch canvases served as a visual gateway to the music. With the digitization that permeates modern music today, it's no wonder that vinyl is seeing a resurgence. What's more, the book features interviews with industry figures, including performers, producers, designers and writers, in an attempt to purport a cultural context while analyzing design decisions for each iconic cover. It's soul-satisfying. —TW
The Magnetic Fields
69 Love Songs [2010 Vinyl Remaster]
Here's the perfect gift for your turntable-owning indie lover. 69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields' seminal sixth album, is a relic of the CD era that seemed nutty in 1999, spread over three discs and packaged with a thick booklet. Triple albums were not an option for bands who weren't the Clash, but cantankerous songsmith Stephin Merritt wouldn't budge. When the record turned out to be brilliant, acclaim and legend followed. 69 became popular enough that tiny Merge Records couldn't keep it stocked, and finally so popular that Merge was no longer tiny.
This beautiful vinyl revamp adds considerable class without violating the presentation's musty, homemade charm. Now on six 10" discs, it still looks vaguely like a bootleg, but a lovingly made bootleg that is conscious of its ingratiating secrets. The listener will be thrilled at the new dimension in the remastered songs, and the booklet remains a treat, encompassing a lengthy interview with Merritt by Fields accordionist Daniel Handler, soon to be rechristened Lemony Snicket.
Merritt's sixty-nine songs arrive from the school of ABBA, Pet Shop Boys, and Cole Porter — simplistic emotion eloquently, perhaps sardonically, expressed. His lyrics have the temperance of a man determined not to be caught with irrational feelings — "The book of love is long and boring," he drones — but on masterworks like "All My Little Words" and "When My Boy Walks Down the Street," the debate of sincerity versus sarcasm becomes irrelevant. "Amazing, he's a whole new form of life/Blue eyes blazing, and he's going to be my wife." It sounds so sweetly direct and fragile that its absolute truth doesn't matter. That's the way a love song should be.—Nathan Phillips
Rock Band 3
Is this the best music game ever? It sure seems like it. Long after rhythm games lost their foothold, Rock Band strikes back with a terrific outing (for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the Wii) that features bigger drums, more vocals, and — drum roll, please — keyboards! All of which make the Cure, Devo and Tears for Fears songs more awesome. Whip this, Guitar Hero. —MG
H.L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series
by H.L. Mencken
Library of America, $70, 1,408 pp.
Though reading Mencken's endless skewering of the buffoons, charlatans and pretenders who populated the country's political and intellectual scene in the 1920s and '30s has a palliative effect — damn, we've been here before, haven't we? — it's hard to imagine a man of his intellect getting a word in edgewise today. Back then, Mencken could use an obituary to savagely dress down a figure like William Jennings Bryan — as he did in one of the more famous essays in Prejudices, the collection of editorials, essays and articles recently published by the Library of America — and it would have a ripple effect. In today's logic- and debate-deprived climate, a Bryanish character like Glenn Beck could simply box Mencken as an atheistic, out-of-touch East Coast snob and that'd be the end of it. You could buy this elegantly republished two-volume collection for yourself or for someone who'd appreciate the caustic (and, indeed, rather prejudiced) Mencken, or you could send it to thatbombastic, e-mail-forwarding boob in your family, and wait for the fireworks — if they get around to reading it. —TH
Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original
by Robin D.G. Kelley
Free Press, $18, 624 pp.
Robin D.G. Kelley's gripping biography of Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) is so detailed that if you're a fan you half expect to run across yourself buying your first Thelonious Monk record. Branford Marsalis gave the book a hearty endorsement from the stage of last summer's Detroit Jazz Festival, praising Kelley for relying on facts not anecdotes, but, in fact, the book actually brims with anecdotes — the thing is that they're of the vetted, questioned and contextualized variety. Myths, though, he cuts to pieces.
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