This year, well, it hasn’t been great. There’s no need to go over the list of reasons why 2020 is one we’ll be ready to put behind us, including the fact that we can’t even really get together for the holidays. (If you’re planning on doing it, don’t—it’s not worth it, your “friendsgiving” or whatever can wait until 2021.) But hey, we can still brighten each other’s days with some thoughtful gifts, and we have some gift ideas that your friends and family will be stoked on, as well as the artists and creators who made them.
There’s no way around it, independent musicians are struggling this year. Not being able to actually get out there and do what they do best—play music!—is a pretty serious financial setback, not to mention the fact that it’s made this year way less fun. But Bandcamp’s been a beacon of hope during the last eight bummer months, setting aside one day each month to allow artists and labels to keep 100 percent of their cut from sales. The next Bandcamp Friday is December 4, and while you’re there, buy some stuff for your friends and family—Bandcamp offers the option to buy music as a gift for others. Still undecided? They have gift cards, too.
Bob Mould Distortion: 1989-1995
Since his earliest days fronting Twin Cities hardcore punk trio Hüsker Dü, Bob Mould’s been on something of an unending hot streak. A new series of box sets (or one box set, if you’re opting for the CD version) compiles his collected works from the beginning of his solo output with 1989’s Workbook on up through his days with Sugar and eventually his most recent solo material. And given that he’s still putting out material like this year’s outstanding Blue Hearts, that’s a lot to keep up with. This vinyl box set is the place to start—get comfortable and turn it up.
($159; A record store near you)
Dolly Parton’s Storyteller: My Life in Lyrics
Dolly Parton is a national treasure. Not only did she write songs like “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors,” but she helped fund the effort to develop a COVID vaccine. Furthermore, she has a new book of stories, lyrics, photos and memorabilia that’d be a perfect addition to the coffee table of any music lover.
Electronic: From Kraftwerk to Chemical Brothers
This year the Design Museum in London showcased an exhibition on the history of electronic music (it’s still up through February 2021), but we wouldn’t suggest getting on a plane right now unless it’s absolutely necessary. That said, there’s a different option—the hardback book version of the exhibit, which features over 300 color images ranging from album and single art and fashion to live performances and illustrations. It’s an essential for the DJ, synth tinkerer or club crawler.
(£20; Design Museum Shop)
Gang of Four’s 77-81
Matador Records recently announced a new partnership to reissue Gang of Four’s back catalog, and part of that effort is an impressive new box set featuring the band’s first two studio albums, a live set from the early ’80s, singles and a cassette of demos. It’s a lot of Gang of Four, of which you can never truly have too much. It’s an extensive, deluxe package that helps to tell the story of how they became one of the greatest bands in the history of post-punk.
Joni Mitchell’s Archives Vol. 1
It’s never a bad time to introduce someone to Joni Mitchell’s music, but for the friend or family member who’s already spent plenty of time with her legendary catalog, seek out this box set of early material spanning from 1963 to 1967. Archives Vol. 1 includes Mitchell’s earliest known recordings, including early versions of songs that would appear on her 1968 debut Song to a Seagull, as well as radio sessions from when she was just 19 years old, and a cover of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain,” which she says inspired her to write “The Circle Game.”
($65; Joni Mitchell webstore)
Marcus J. Moore’s The Butterfly Effect
Few artists have been as culturally transformative in the past decade as Kendrick Lamar, whose To Pimp a Butterfly we named our number one album of the 2010s. In his new book, music critic Marcus J. Moore crafts a cultural biography of Lamar, tracing his rise to being a hip-hop icon, the meticulous work spent crafting his iconic 2015 album, and how he helped to become a crucial voice in a country facing a pivotal moment in antiracist activism.
($12.99; Simon and Schuster)
Merch from your favorite venues
There’s no question that live music venues have been hit particularly hard this year. With no live music to speak of, clubs and theaters have had to temporarily close up shop, which means a huge loss of income for both the organizations and their employees. Some have even had to close permanently. But while it’s only a partial solution, one way to help support them while live music is on hold is to buy merch from your favorite venues—shirts and hoodies, mugs, whatever cool wares they have on offer.
Alternately, donate to Save Our Stages to help keep live music venues alive long after the pandemic.
Nirvana Bleach puzzle
The stay-at-home life of the Covid pandemic has been a boon for indoor activities, like video games and puzzles. And given that there’s still plenty more indoor time ahead of us (add some cold winter weather to the equation while you’re at it!), more puzzle time certainly seems in order. But how about, like, rock puzzles? Sub Pop offers a puzzle depicting the artwork from Nirvana’s 1989 debut album Bleach, which should be a fun one to work on this winter. We’re assuming the Six Finger Satellite puzzles are next on the assembly line.
($30; Sub Pop)
Phoebe Bridgers sweatpants
So as of yet Phoebe Bridgers hasn’t marketed the full-sized skeleton costume that she’s wearing on the cover of her latest album, Punisher, but anyone who follows her Instagram account will no doubt have seen the next best thing: Phoebe Bridgers sweatpants. They feature legbone graphics, as well as her name on the backside. That’s really how you know you’ve made it in life, when your name is on everyone’s butt.
($40; Phoebe Bridgers webstore)
Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times Super Deluxe Edition
There will never be another artist like Prince, not merely in terms of talent, but likewise in how undeniably prolific he was. And few points in his career were as fruitful as the mid-to-late ’80s, when he recorded dozens upon dozens of songs for a series of conceptualized and ultimately abandoned albums, all of which eventually evolved into his 1987 masterpiece Sign ‘O’ the Times. The new 13xLP box set version of the album collects the original album plus 45 unreleased bonus tracks, with live and studio takes, many of which are every bit as good as the proper album. (For reference, see our reworking of the tracklist of one of those lost albums.)
($299.98; Prince webstore)
Run the Jewels mug
Run the Jewels consistently have outstanding merch, and it always sells out fast. (Their series of t-shirts to benefit reproductive, LGBTQ+, voting and immigration rights and prison reform are all amazing, and unfortunately all gone.) But their new collaboration line with video game Cyberpunk 2077 adds a layer of dystopia to their fist-and-gun combo, one depicting a bear and one a wolf. Stir a little Yankee and the Brave into your breakfast blend.
($17; Run the Jewels store)
Sacred Bones pashmina
Winter’s just around the corner and it’s already starting to get cold. But if you’re not feeling like knitting a homemade scarf for your goth loved ones, we suggest a more stylish and luxurious option: the Sacred Bones pashmina, featuring the label’s triangle logo, to help keep your favorite indie weirdos warm this winter.
($20; Sacred Bones)
Sade’s This Far
UK jazz-pop group Sade have released only six albums in 36 years together, but they’ve always been a quality over quantity outfit—not a single one of these albums is less than stellar. They’ve hinted at a seventh album to come, which isn’t here yet, but in the meantime, their recorded output up to this point is now compiled in a vinyl box set, This Far, which would be a pretty stellar item to find under the tree.
($190; Turntable Lab)
Vinyl from a local record store
In much the same way that venues are struggling, local record stores could use your business as well. Listening to music at home has helped to get us through the year thus far, and if you’re picking some fresh vinyl up for the crate-diggers in your life, support the brick and mortar stores in your neck of the woods. We have some suggestions of our own, but you can also consult Discogs’ record store database for more options.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.