Once upon a time Christmas was simpler—you’d spend all fall waiting for the Sears catalogue to come, frantically leaf through the 25-page toy section when it did, then send your wish off to Santa.
Now it’s flat-out mind-bending. Thanks to the world-wide Interweb there are literally millions of websites to scour for that perfect gift. And the problem is that the dazzling array of choices kicks our OCD into overdrive. As appealing as a Sonos PLAY:3 might be, who’s to say that a Harman Infinity One isn’t the way to go?
Let the following gift guide help you make some informed decisions, with our recommended presents designed to appeal to everyone from old punk rockers to the most tech-savvy of gearheads.
I Survived D.O.A.
It’s a question that’s long fascinated anyone interested in Vancouver’s deservedly fabled punk scene: what the hell is up with Randy Rampage?
The bassist born Randall Archibald was there on the frontlines for D.O.A.’s seminal early singles, and then left when the group was becoming one of the most notorious acts in first-wave punk rock. After rejoining halfway through the recording of 1980’s landmark LP Something Better Change and contributing to the genre-defining Hardcore ’81, Rampage ended up on the outs again.
He was back, unexpectedly, in 2005 and then seemingly acrimoniously given the boot by D.O.A. founder Joe “Shithead” Keithley in 2008. Working with notable punk author Chris Walter (SNFU: What No One Else Wanted to Say), Rampage gives a largely unsanitized history of his time in D.O.A., along with the metal years that followed with acts like Annihilator.
Think of it as a fill-in-the-blanks companion to more family-friendly history lessons such as I, Shithead: A Life in Punk. And enjoy the dirt, starting with Chapter 1 revelations like “there was always some friction between [original D.O.A. drummer] Chuck Biscuits and me. He hated my guts for some reason—maybe because I fucked all his girlfriends.” ($17.50 at www.punkbooks.com/)
Ariana Grande cat-ear headphones
These wireless Bluetooth headphones have a frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz with 32 ohms of impedance, which means that, functionally speaking, they’re not much different than a set of comparably priced Audio-Technicas.
One unique feature is that the cat ears are actually external speakers. Let’s face it, though—whoever it is on your list that you’re buying these for is unlikely to have any interest in the technical specifications. What they’ll want to know is that the things light up, and that you can change the colour of the lights (from blue to orange and all points in between) to match your mood or your outfit.
And also that they will make the wearer look either adorable or ridiculous, which—like the question of whether Ariana Grande’s voice is the sublime instrument of an angel or the ear-splitting punishment of a vengeful and pitiless God—is a matter of opinion. (US$149 at brookstone.com/)
Lost in the Supermarket: An Indie Rock Cookbook
Contrary to every balding, middle-aged man’s fantasies, being a touring rock musician in a tiny van is actually pretty tough work. The worst thing about it? The shit food.
No stove means a daily choice of McDonald’s, Subway, or Tim’s, or sometimes all three—which, if you’ve seen the movie Supersize Me, doesn’t bode well for the longevity of the band. A few artists, however, have managed to conquer cuisine on the road.
Lost in the Supermarket—named after the Clash’s seminal London Calling track—by Bozich Owens and Lynn Owens is a creative collection of recipes that blends music and eating: the two elements needed for a full and happy life.
Breaking down some of the favourite meals of indie rock’s biggest bands—we’re talking Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Belle and Sebastian, among others—Lost in the Supermarket presents 187 pages of easy-to-follow, tasty recipes. Because if you can’t play like them, you might as well eat like them. ($23.04 at amazon.ca/)
How cool is this thing? It’s a sensor that plugs into your smartphone or tablet, where it picks up vibrations and converts them into digital sounds and on-screen actions.
The unit comes with a range of apps, including Pulse, a game that teaches the building blocks of rhythm, and Keys, which lets users turn their captured vibrations into melodies and chords.
You can attach the sensor to pretty much any object, from a water jug to your own head, but if you happen to have an eight-year-old boy in your house, we can pretty much guarantee it will end up stuck to the side of a toilet sooner or later. (US$49.99 at amazon.com/)
Polk Boom Bit
God knows we’ve all been there—stuck next to that jackass at the beach, at a bus stop, or on a public campsite who’s cranking Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” on his Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 portable speaker. Such displays of ignorance are never going to change, so if you can’t beat ’em you might as well join them.
Weighing in at eight ounces and measuring around three inches in length, the Polk Boom Bit bills itself as the “world’s first truly wearable Bluetooth speaker”. It’s also stylish, coming in a variety of colours including mint grey, sport blue, and lava. Use the steel-spring clip to attach it to your clothes and share your favourite songs with the world, whether you’re on the golf course, standing in line at the bank, or attending your great-aunt Ethyl’s funeral.
That’s right: after years of keeping to yourself with headphones, the Polk Boom Bit means you can now screech “I love this song, and you will too,” then crank up the Geto Boys’ immortal “Gangster of Love” for all around you to hear.
If someone starts complaining, tell them it could be worse, namely “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger. (US$29 at www.polkboom.com/)
The RCA Albums Collection by Elvis Presley
It’s tempting to say that this 60-CD collection is for completists, but that would not be entirely accurate.
The folks who compiled this supposedly comprehensive box set have conveniently forgotten that, in 1974, RCA released a little something called Having Fun With Elvis On Stage, which was sort of like a concert album with all the music excised, leaving 37 minutes of inane and mostly incomprehensible banter.
Actually, leaving that one out was a good call. Since this is pretty much everything else RCA released with Presley’s name on it, from his signing with the label in 1956 to his death in 1977, you get the best and worst of the King, plus everything in between. You also get three discs of rarities, a 300-page book, stickers, and lovingly detailed reproductions of LP sleeves and inserts.
The only thing missing is a recipe for fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. ($345.97 at HMV [1148 Robson Street])
Hypercaffium Spazzinate Coffee
As snobby as we are about coffee in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve got nothing on legendary SoCal punk band the Descendents. The quartet, which dates back to when punk was a public menace instead of a reason to visit Hot Topic at the mall, has a well-documented obsession with the dark bean.
Drummer Bill Stevenson described its first recordings as a “coffee’d-out blend of rock-surf-pop-punk music”. The Descendents would quickly become faster and louder, helping invent West Coast hardcore, attributing its newfound aggressiveness to massive coffee consumption.
And that’s been backed up over the years by songs like “Kids on Coffee”, lyrics such as “Thou shalt not partake of decaf” (from “All-O-Gistics”), and album titles like the new Hypercaffium Spazzinate.
As a tribute to the Descendents, Chicago’s roasters Dark Matter Coffee worked with the band to come up with Hypercaffium Spazzinate coffee, which blends select beans from El Salvador and Guatemala and then tweaks their flavour profile by putting them in beer and spirit barrels.
Dark Matter promises that each cup will “Make the coffee drinker reexamine the idea of roast and carmelization in coffee.” And, presumably, want to put on some punk rock. (US$18 at www.darkmattercoffee.com/)
The Lyrics: 1961–2012 by Bob Dylan
When it was announced in October that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature—the first person to be awarded that honour for song lyrics—it caused some controversy.
We are, after all, talking about the man who came up with such deathless lines as “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup/Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a rolling hoop.”
That ain’t exactly William Butler Yeats (who won the Nobel in 1923). Then again, Dylan also wrote “Hurricane”, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, “All Along the Watchtower”, and “Like a Rolling Stone”, which is more than enough reason to cut the man some slack.
Weighing in at nearly 700 pages, The Lyrics: 1961–2012 is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the work of the pop icon whom Kurt Vonnegut called “the worst poet alive” and of whom Leonard Cohen once said, “Dylan is not just a great poet, but a great man.” We’re with Cohen on this one. ($41.71 at chapters.indigo.ca/)
The Complete Sony Recordings by Philip Glass
The 24 discs in this box set include recordings of some of Philip Glass’s seminal works, including his operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten; his 1990 collaboration with Ravi Shankar, Passages; and his most calculatedly populist chamber suite, Glassworks.
There’s a reason Glass is one of the most acclaimed and influential composers of his time—his music is melodic and accessible, and despite his status as an icon of postmodern minimalism, he’s really a classicist at heart.
So, that headbanger cousin who asked for the new Dio box set? Forget that swords-and-sorcery bullshit and stick this in his stocking instead. He’ll probably thank you for it by “accidentally” knocking over your eight-foot noble-fir Christmas tree. ($129.76 at amazon.ca/)
Eliminating the need for you to ever leave the couch again, Amazon has just released the second generation of its game-changing Echo Dot: a hands-free, voice-controlled device that can play any song on demand.
Unveiling the latest in a line of great but slightly creepy personal assistants like Siri and Cortana (ask Siri about “where to hide the bodies” if you don’t believe us), Echo Dot is powered by Alexa. Connecting to speakers or headphones through Bluetooth or an aux cord, Alexa can fire up tracks from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn and can pick out your voice commands from all over the house.
Sure, it might seem like an FBI conspiracy to gather data from your conversations. But who really cares that the Echo Dot is always listening when you can ask it to drop the intro to “Crazy in Love” at any moment? Besides—what have you got to hide? Right? ($39.99 at amazon.ca/)
Major-scale musical wine glasses
Remember that scene in Miss Congeniality when Sandra Bullock starts playing Doctor Zhivago’s “Lara’s Theme” on the rims of half-filled wineglasses, and then stage-dives onto an unsuspecting pageant enthusiast? You can now relive that classic moment yourself.
Fill your goblet to the desired line (or, better still, drink until you reach the correct marker), and run a moistened finger around the top of the glass. Soon your touch will cause the glass to vibrate, creating a musical note.
Each goblet accommodates a full A-major scale, allowing you to perform tracks like Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine”, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, or even Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, all in their original keys—because nothing could be better than spending Christmas Day re-creating disco-house classics on tableware. ($91.62 for a set of two at uncommongoods.com/)
Vibes high-fidelity earplugs
When it comes to live music, the closer you get to the stage the more transcendent the show is likely to be. That’s why people fork out hundreds of dollars for the best Kanye West and Coldplay tickets at B.C. Place and why they elbow their way to the front of the room at the Commodore.
The only downside to getting a contact buzz from being within touching distance of your favourite performer is the irreparable hearing damage that inevitably results.
Those who haven’t blown every bit of their disposable income on concert tickets solve the problem by springing for custom-made earplugs at places like Vancouver’s Hearing Precision Clinic. The rest of us stuff wadded-up napkins or foam earplugs in our ears.
A smart and economical alternative is Vibes earplugs, which are designed to make the loudest of concerts 22 decibels quieter and fit those with small, medium, and Dumbo-sized ears.
Built-in filters help ensure superior sound quality, meaning that you can enjoy the majestic nuances of Deafheaven without going deaf. (US$23.99 at www.discovervibes.com/)
Lego Yellow Submarine
It’s been nearly half a century since the Beatles’ unrelentingly trippy movie Yellow Submarine first graced the world’s screens.
For those a little hazy on the story—and let’s be honest, if you can remember the plot, then you probably weren’t doing the ’60s right—the film follows the journey of the Fab Four as they travel from Liverpool to a colourful underwater world, trying to save cheerful Pepperland from the music-hating Blue Meanies. (We’re told it makes more sense on acid.)
After 10,000 people suggested that they’d like to relive the bizarre movie in Lego form, the company dutifully obliged. The Yellow Submarine kit splits the titular vessel into 553 pieces, which, when assembled, create a ship with a removable top, a cockpit that fits all the characters, four rotating periscopes, two rotating propellers, and an adjustable rudder.
Also found in the box are Beatles mini figs of John, Paul, George, and Ringo and a bonus figurine of Jeremy Hillary Boob: the weird creature with a painted clown face, brown furry body, and pink cottontail. LSD tabs not included. ($69.86 at amazon.ca/)