Giving music-related gifts has become something of a complicated prospect now that each and every day the internet gives away free music to anyone who knows where to look—but we still think you should try. Because while we like sweaters, they eventually develop holes near the elbows. Music does not. Nor do books about music. Or music-related t-shirts, because they're short-sleeved and don't reach your elbows.
Posters from the Decoder Ring Design Concern, $18
When we love a band, we'll buy their album. When we really, really love a band, we'll buy a poster. We put it in a black frame and hang it on our wall so we remember that we loved them before everyone else, spurring a whole self-congratulatory cycle that acts as a fairly decent mood booster throughout the day. The point is, the Austin-based design collective Decoder Ring is responsible for some of the most creative gig posters out there. Their designs employ inspiration from newsprint (they use Benday dots?), a smart use of limited color, and a sense of humor—an illustration of Robert Pollard's circulatory system with a beercan in place of a heart and a series of posters each based on a different Modest Mouse lyric are a few highlights.
T-shirts designed by bands at the Yellow Bird Project, $20
If it were socially acceptable to wear t-shirts and sweatpants around the clock, we would. A Montreal-based nonprofit called the Yellow Bird Project offers the perfect gift, then, as they've enlisted Of Montreal, Bon Iver, Ra Ra Riot, Wolf Parade and other indie-rock favorites to design t-shirts, with all proceeds going to the charity of the band's choice. So not only will you be donating to a good cause, but it's the easiest way for your loved one to coyly tell the world, "I listen to better music than the rest of you" without having to sound like a total jerk.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (20th Anniversary Edition)
by Greil Marcus, $18
A re-release of Greil Marcus' landmark 1989 work examining the parallels between avant-garde art movement the Situationist International (and Dadaism before it) and late-century punk-rock. The focus is on the Sex Pistols and their iconic debut single, "Anarchy in the U.K.," and even 20 years since the book was published, you'll still be hard pressed to find another cultural critic who digs half as deep as Marcus does here. Perhaps you have a young relative who has a hunch that everything and everyone around him is fake and full of shit and totally dangerous and who wonders if anyone's ever tried to do anything about it? Maybe? Happy Holidays!
Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves, $23
With such contributors as the Magnetic Fields' Claudia Gonson, This American Life's Starlee Kine, The New Yorker's Ben Greenman, music journalist Rob Sheffield, and over 50 others each sharing their most prized mixtapes and the (often humorous) stories behind them ("My first kiss ended in bloodshed," ha), Cassette From My Ex editor Jason Bitner is single-handedly seeing to it that your holidays are warm and sad and happy and heartbreaking. For a sneak peek, check out cassettefrommyex.com, where you can also listen to a few of the featured mixes for free.
Grunge by Michael Lavine, $25
It's hard not to laugh at grunge—as a style, as a genre of music, or as whatever else it wound up being during those first few years of the 90s. You think of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and a handful of other bands that wound up being not much better than the silly 80s metal bands they were supposed to be distracting us from, but you shouldn't: think instead about how, despite all its flaws, grunge shifted the focus to bands with real counter-cultural leanings. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, sure, but also Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr., Jon Spencer, Beat Happening, Urge Overkill and Sonic Youth, all of whom appear in this beautiful book of photography by Michael Lavine.
Insound's Mixtape t-shirt, $18
Do you see a theme developing here? The front of the shirt has an interpretive picture of a cassette tape; the back is an illustration of its blank paper cover. Insound throws in a Sharpie marker for good measure. You can obviously leave it up to the receiver to write in which songs they want on their ultimate mix, or you can painstakingly create a playlist for them, taking extra special care to determine the order of the "Take My Breath Away,""I'll Be Watching You," "Opposites Attract" triple threat for maximum emotional effect. It might be fun to then actually make them the mix (fine, burn them the CD), only so you can relish the moment before it turns up in Cassette From My Ex, Vol. 2.
Available at insound.com
Beatles Stereo Box Set, $180
Remember how much press these things got back in September when they were first released? It made for a fun couple days, but you didn't actually buy it, did you? No, you didn't, because no one spends $180 (or $230 for the mono version) on music anymore. The solution? Make someone else buy it for you, obviously.