I wouldn’t generally use this word space to further guilt-ridden consumerist propaganda, especially now as we find ourselves once again in this abyss of the festivity of excess otherwise known as the holiday season. Alas, it’s the way our little corner of the world works and who am I to deny gifts? (I could really use a nice pair of headphones, in case anyone’s wondering.) A few cool compilations and box sets have found their way onto my desk recently and I’ve waded through the stacks to create this handy guide to helping you show friends and family you love them in traditional gift-wrapped style.
Cousin Lester (Wears black hooded sweatshirts, earlobe spacers. Writes love letters to his girlfriend, skateboards): Another Year on the Streets (Vagrant Records). The good folks at Vagrant have compiled some old favorites along with a ton of previously unreleased tracks from a few artists who are quite popular with the kids these days. Alkaline Trio, the Anniversary, the Get Up Kids and the sorta-locally based Koufax all make it onto this emotion-packed punk rock comp that’ll keep Lester brooding until the new year.
Cousin Lucy (Still not over Phil Collins canceling his 1980-something concert due to laryngitis. Still wears jeans that taper at the ankles): Genesis Archive #2: 1976-1992 (WEA-Atlantic). This box set covers the post-Peter Gabriel years — around the time when the band moved from prog rock to top of the pops. I still have twisted memories of my religion teacher playing us “Land of Confusion” and all I could think about was a claymation Ronald Reagan pushing the nuke button. What was that all about? Regardless, Lucy’ll get her groovy kind of love on with this collection of hits. And disc two, which features live favorites, might quell her Phil-craving that was never quenched because of that canceled show.
Your dad and/or uncle (Grew up anywhere in the Detroit area. Listens to oldies radio): Doo Wop boxes I, II, III (Rhino Records). Rhino just released its third installment of this series dedicated to preserving the poetry of street-corner harmonizers such as the Drifters, the Del-Vikings and the Dominoes. The third set follows in the tradition of the first two collections, placing the hits alongside the near-misses. I already gave this one to my dad. He gave it two thumbs up.
Your mom and/or aunt (Thinks burning CDs is unpatriotic. Wears cable-knit sweaters): Christmas Here With You. The Four Tops recorded a feel-good Christmas album four years ago. It included four original songs, a few classics and guest appearances from Aretha Franklin. It sat for years with little promotion. The group leased the rights back and decided to rerelease it next year. You won’t be able to find it in stores yet, but Duke Fakir is making songs off the album available for free downloading at harmoniepark.com. So not only is this a freebie, your mom will love the “homemade” aspect and brag to her friends how computer literate her son or daughter is.
Your little sister (Wears too much pink, too much black eyeliner. Reads any magazine with “Teen” in the title): Christina Aguilera’s My Kind of Christmas and a pair of nice headphones. Suck it up. She’ll like it.
Your older brother (Has everything. Watches “Star Trek” rerun marathons): Brain in a Box: The Science Fiction Collection (Rhino). Click on the link for the review and you’ll understand.
Your best friend and/or significant other (Likes music): Sculpting From Drake, Volume One (Elsie and Jack Recordings). More often than not, tribute albums suck ass, but this one, I must admit, does nothing of the sort. Each Nick Drake masterpiece (“Fruit Tree,” “Northern Sky,” “Pink Moon,” to name a few) has been given the transcendent treatment it deserves — different enough to be worth a second listen, familiar enough to squeeze you tight like an old friend. And it includes stellar selections from hometown heroes such as Au Revoir Borealis and Flashpapr. The Sea and Cake’s Archer Prewitt makes a fine showing as well, with his intricately gorgeous rendering of “Parasite.” Inside a pretty glossy booklet are stories from the artists about how hearing Drake for the first time impacted them. What the heck, pick up a copy for yourself while you’re at it. If you can’t find the CD in your local record store, try ordering it at www.elsieandjack.com.
In the next installment of In One Ear, we’ll cover all the super-cool new releases coming out in January that we can buy after taking back all the crappy gifts we don’t want.E-mail In One Ear at firstname.lastname@example.org