Personally, I'd like an iPod mini. One of those cute suckers, just $249 and the perfect gift from any aspiring local artist wanting to "get ahead." (I prefer pink, by the way.) And yet, we can't all afford such luxurious gifts for our favorite little music lover. Some of you may spend hours scouring the aisles of Tower Records only to leave with a flimsy $25 gift certificate. Happy holidays--now go buy your own present, kid. We're not knocking gift certificates (bring 'em on!), but shouldn't gifts be an expression of personality and care? Gifts say "I love you," "you're special to me," "I want a good review next time." So put the new U2 album back on the shelf. Step away from the Gwen Stefani. Let our crack staff of music writers guide you to a year of better gifting. --Sarah Hepola
Unless you sneak into your friend's room when she's not at home, you probably don't know which limited-edition Japanese imports she lacks. So don't even try to guess. There's a better way to pay tribute to her obsessions: Buy a limited-edition gig poster. Some of my favorites are Atlanta's Methane Studios (www.methanestudios.com), which has designed posters for Joe Strummer, Death Cab for Cutie, Sebadoh and Camper Van Beethoven; Chicago's The Bird Machine (www.thebirdmachine.com), which produced bills for Shellac, Fugazi, Flaming Lips and TBM artist Jay Ryan's band Dianogah; and Minneapolis' Aesthetic Apparatus (www.aestheticapparatus.com), which has worked with Hey Mercedes, Jonathan Richman, Modest Mouse and Man or Astro-Man? It's time to take down the posters from Spencer's; this is art for (sort-of) grown-ups. --Shannon Sutlief
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, Pavement (Matador)
Any indie rocker on your list already owns Crooked Rain Crooked Rain, the second album by Pavement, aka the Eagles of the underground. But anyone who plays CDs deserves to hear the record, a cool drink of mellow California guitar gold that still feels like a secret shared by thousands. Bonus material on this double-disc reissue includes a mess of unreleased studio outtakes even your fiercest file-sharing friend hasn't heard, plus a sweet 62-page booklet with funny-sad reminiscences from front men Steve Malkmus and Scott Kannberg and dreamy intellectual-beefcake photos of our heroes ignoring semi-fame's knock.
ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, by the editors of ego trip
For one thing, this collection of rap miscellany is funny as hell, even if you don't know much about hip-hop. For another, it's a good way to learn about hip-hop without having to sift through the ton of other books out there that miss the point. It's a few years old, so it misses out on much of the Eminem era--which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean, he's not the only rapper alive. --Zac Crain
Tegan & Sara, So Jealous (Vapor US) and PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her (Island)
For the girl who just started learning guitar: Instead of another Avril Lavigne CD, give her proof she can get out there and do whatever the hell she wants. Tegan & Sara's earlier albums weren't that great, but their third is rife with quirky harmonies and poppy melodies. An even bolder choice is the 2004 release by my female musician role model, Ms. Polly Jean. She's vulgar, she's brazen and what other tiny femme could open for a U2 arena tour? Offering your daughter PJ Harvey--now that's a parental advisory. --Merritt Martin
Sessions at West 54th DVDs
As a fan whose favorite artists don't often play live, I consider discovering the Sessions at West 54th series an enormous coup. It's sorta like Austin City Limits and sorta like Unplugged, but better and more diverse than both. For a true fan of Neil Finn, Keb' Mo', Ben Folds Five or John Prine, the DVDs are priceless, offering an amazingly intimate experience with artists whose music is, well, intimate. For the general music fan, the best-ofs are just as revelatory, like a finely planned mix tape. Bits of Daniel Lanois' mysticism, Emmylou's trill, Nil Lara's Latin funkiness and Lou Reed's everything are flanked with consummate performers like Patti Smith, Steve Earle and Elvis Costello. Amazon.com offers both best-of DVDs for $23.46. Modern masters rarely come so cheap--or so good. --M.M.
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Team America: World Police Soundtrack, Various Artists (Atlantic)
We've been blaring this album around the office for months, pumping our fists to the battle anthem "America, Fuck Yeah!" and quietly appreciating the homophobic love ode "Only a Woman." Never fails to cheer me up. Sure, TA:WP's album doesn't belong anywhere near a "Best of 2004" list, but its 16 minutes of movie soundtrack rip-offs are funny as hell and vulgar enough to ruin any child's Christmas stocking. --Sam Machkovech
Salad Days, Charles Romalotti
Now in its sixth printing, this trip through the holy days of American hardcore just gets better with age. Tracing a small-town Kansas punk through his discovery of the life-saving value of the Descendents, Black Flag and Bad Brains, Romalotti prose is filled with remembrance and regret. Salad Days' anti-hero, Frank, forms a band, joins a better one and somehow survives a hardcore summer tour from hell, all the while musing on life, love and his straight-edge personal mission. Inspirational holiday reading for new-age slackers. --Darryl Smyers