PART LIES, PAT TRUTH, PART GARBAGE: 1982-2011 - R.E.M.
2011 marks the year that your favorite band broke up. And it was the year that you finally realized that R.E.M — that band who broke up — had been playing for nearly 30 years when they called it quits. And you’ve been listening that whole time. Damn, I feel old.
In one grand finale, the band released Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Garbage this year, collecting the best of the best from their storied career. Among a host of fan favorites, you’ll find all the hits here: “Radio Free Europe,” “Stand,” “Losing My Religion,” “Man on the Moon,” “Bad Day.” Looking over the 40-song track listing, it’s staggering how many radio and music video slam dunks the band had. Your R.E.M. fan will pop this in and bliss out for hours as they enjoy the band’s earliest rock hits, and late-career pop snafus. Plus, it’s like nine bucks on Amazon. (Leah Sottile)
FOO FIGHTERS VINYL BUNDLE
The late Elliott Smith was such a remarkably gifted and incredibly consistent songwriter that choosing tracks for a compilation could be as easy as writing the name of each of his songs on a ping-pong ball, throwing them in a hopper and drawing about a dozen of them randomly. No matter what, you’d end up with something pretty incredible. For its part, this retrospective does an excellent job of pulling heavily from Smith’s early records and assembling a collection of some of his most haunting and striking melodies, such as “Miss Misery,” “Between the Bars” and “Alameda.” Introduce somebody. (Mark White)
Seattle’s past of musical innovation does not stop at grunge music. Though often overlooked, those musicians who were there in the late ’60s and early ’70s will tell you that funk and soul was the Seattle sound. And it wasn’t until just six years ago that the scene saw its second coming — when Light in the Attic Records compiled a respectable set of classic Seattle funk records under the title Wheedle’s Groove.
For those vinyl-lovers who drool over the details, Light in the Attic has expanded upon its original compilation CD and released a pristine collection of 10 45-RPM singles, each with vintage label art and heavy amounts of re-mastering. Also included is the first CD release of the sessions that would have been the sound’s goto record, before label troubles prevented the album from postproduction. Not just an interesting insight on a scene, Wheedle’s Groove collects some fantastic funk and soul music that, sadly, wouldn’t see light any other way. (JS)
THE SMITHS COMPLETE VINYL BOXED SET
If you have a Smiths fan to buy for this holiday season, they already know about this boxed-set-of-all-boxed-sets. It’s just a matter of whether they can afford the $235 price. This set delivers a hefty wallop of Smiths nerdery: five vinyl singles, three LPs, a 12-inch book of uber-liner notes and a massive poster. What’s cool about this set is that the entire thing — including Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead and the band’s only live album — was re-mastered by the band’s guitar genius, Johnny Marr. And if shelling out that much cash is out of the question, there’s a CD version, too, for a mere $54. And before you gift it, give it a listen first. That singer is the reason your teenager has been perfecting his pompadour in the mirror every morning. Long live the Moz. (LS)
PEACE SELLS … BUT WHO’S BUYING? — Megadeth
The best part about classic thrash metal is that it doesn’t need huge box sets or anniversary editions to be validated as an awesome musical movement with a few minor masterpieces. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that no thrash record has really gotten a chance to shine in delicious big-box glory like Megadeth’s fantastic Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying? Though largely composed of material available on the 2004 re-release of the album, this new set contains five CDs and three LPs and provides a few extra unreleased goodies, namely an amazing concert from 1987 that somehow never saw plastic or vinyl. Also on display here: a re-mastered disc of the original Capitol Records version of the album, Dave Mustaine’s remixes from 2004, and producer Randy Burns’ mixes of the record (before they were remixed, again). The stars of the show are the three LPs and the box they come in, crammed with photos, posters and liner notes. A bit pricey, but a must-have for self-respecting metalheads. (JS)
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL BOX SET
Neutral Milk Hotel existed in a time before anything obscure and cool was instantly labeled “hipster,” when indie pop was still “twee.” In this climate, NMH’s beautiful lo-fi pop stood out for its utter lack of pretension and irony. Jeff Mangum, the brains behind the brilliance, chose 2011 to finally emerge after being essentially M.I.A. since the band dissolved in 1998. The musical hermit decided to selfrelease a careerspanning NMH box set, which includes both 12-inch LPs, two 10-inch EPs, two seven-inch singles, a seven-inch picture disc, a couple posters, and 15 unreleased NMH songs. The centerpiece here is NMH’s masterwork In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. The album sounds like the jumbled, jangly pop ramblings of a syphilitic brain, with Mangum’s warbles being counterbalanced by garish horn accents. Scoff at the haters crying “hipster!” at this purchase and unabashedly wail along with Mangum in twee bliss. (SS)
THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER Edited by Garrett Oliver
“Beer is fun.” Never have simpler, wiser words been spoken, and when they come out of the mouth of Garrett Oliver, editor of the new Oxford Companion to Beer, you can tell he “gets it.” Still, the brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery has overseen something far from simple here.
Like others in the Oxford Companion series (Art, Film, Australian Folklore — seriously), this aims to be uber-comprehensive. And with more than 1,110 encyclopedic entries written by 166 experts from 20 countries, they seem to have nailed it. Heck, there are more than 100 listings on the various subjects under “hops.” Oh, and there’s even a guide to the world’s beer museums.
You won’t find a list of all your favorite micros and their brews here, but a gift of the Oxford Companion to Beer will show anyone that beer is fun. (Ted S. McGregor, Jr.)
THE 50 FUNNIEST AMERICAN WRITERS Edited by Andy Borowitz
You read him every week at the front of this newspaper, and now he’s edited a book that makes the perfect gift. Perfect, as Borowitz has put it in interviews, for being the ultimate bathroom book — one you can read in bits during visits to the commode, where a few well-timed laughs can even be therapeutic.
Borowitz has an ear for funny, as he’s been writing comedy since his undergrad days at Harvard with the Harvard Lampoon; he wrote and created sitcoms (like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) and now writes for the likes of The Inlander and some lesser-knowns, like The New Yorker. Here, he’s collected the best from writers as diverse as Mark Twain, Wanda Sykes, David Sedaris and Jack Handey.
Chances are somebody on your list could use a good laugh — or maybe a laxative. (TSM)
WONDERSTRUCK By Brian Selznick
One of the coolest novels of the past few years was The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What was a dear secret for its fans went nationwide last month, as Martin Scorsese released his animated adaptation, Hugo.
So the secret’s out, and in a bit of perfect timing, author Brian Selznick just released his next book, Wonderstruck. And with 460 pages of artwork, this one’s even bigger than Hugo Cabret. This time, two seemingly unrelated stories run parallel — one graphically, the other written. They combine as the two main characters meet for a final adventure in New York.
Selznick has illustrated more than 20 children’s books, and he won the Caldecott Medal for Hugo Cabret in 2008. Wonderstruck continues his exploration of how to make a book an immersive experience that can still deliver subtle themes, like how the smallest things can connect us. (TSM)
LONDON UNDER By Peter Ackroyd
One of the greatest urban epics ever written, London: The Biography, came out a decade ago. Now its author, Peter Ackroyd, has released a kind of addendum, London Under.
Unlike its 800-plus-page predecessor, this one comes in under 200 pages and takes you on a quick tour of the 40 vertical feet (in some places) that have built up over where the old city used to stand. It starts in Roman times, examines the sewering that came after the Great Stink of 1858 (winner of the most horrifically named historical event) and takes you through the Tube and its heroic use as a citywide bomb shelter during the Blitz.
If you’re one of those people who like to go where you’re not allowed, this fits the bill — and you get one of the great London-lovers of all time as tour guide. (TSM)
DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY By P.D. James
Like some kind of literary zombie, Jane Austen just will not die. And oddly enough, the most recent sensation surrounding her work was its reanimation in the oddball 2009 bestseller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Well, Pride and Prejudice is getting another revival, and this time in the sure hands of P.D. James.
Best-known for her long-running series about policeman/poet Adam Dagliesh, James is a lifelong Austen lover. Now that (Ample she’s parking retired Dagliesh, available she right produced before a railroad book she’s been thinking about for years: a mystery at Pemberley Estate.
You’ll recall Pemberley is where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy retired at the end of Pride and Prejudice. James has them living happily ever after when her reckless sister Lydia shows up with news that her 6 husband, the wicked Mr. Wickham, has been murdered. James, Austen — this one’s gonna be good. (TSM)
EVA BRAUN: LIFE WITH HITLER By Heike B. Grtemaker
Ever lay in bed at night and wonder to yourself who in their right mind would date Adolf Hitler? Yep, us too. German historian Heike B. Grtemaker apparently did, too, and she went ahead and wrote a book on it. Grtemaker takes Eva Braun, whom Hitler first met when she was 17, and goes deep as she can into their relationship, up until their shared suicide in a bunker in the war’s waning hours. “A serious study of personal relationships and power at Nazi Germany’s pinnacle. [Eva Braun] deserves a broad readership, taking us as it does behind the scenes of history’s most criminal regime,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle. (Joe O'Sullivan)
CHANGO’S BEADS AND TWO- TONE SHOES By William Kennedy
As America teeters on the brink of political tensions (the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have now given us three years of simmering protests), William Kennedy’s new novel brings us back into the past to the tumult of another generation.
Kennedy, whose novel Ironweed won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, draws on life experiences and as a reporter during the mid-20th century to tell two stories: the repression of late-1950s Cuba and race riots in late-1960s Albany. Two different worlds, two intense expressions of anger. Is the past prologue? (JO)
ARGUABLY By Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens is one of the bravest, rawest and most controversial writers alive, and Arguably is his latest essay collection, mostly comprised of works from Vanity Fair, the Atlantic and Slate.
An unrepentant atheist, a defender of the so-called war on terror, a relentless critic of politicians and institutions, this ne’er-do-well has raged against all manner of human foibles. And Hitchens now rages against the dying light, as he succumbs to cancer of the esophagus.
So enjoy the fine-brained madman while he’s here, because once Hitchens departs, you will feel a big black hole in our intellectual life. (JO)
THE TIGER’S WIFE By Tea Obrecht
10 pm A young doctor named Natalia arrives at an orphanage in a Balkan country recuperating from that region’s years of war. By the time she and her friend Zóra start inoculating kids, Natalia begins sensing that her new world is inhabited by strange, strange secrets.
Meanwhile, the good doctor wrestles with riddles inside her own family, like why her grandfather disappeared to die alone, rather than open to making the public the visit to see her that he announced. MEEt thE ARtiStS Obrecht, who grew to age 7 in former Yugoslavia and now lives in Ithaca, N.Y., has inhabited The New Yorker’s rarefied “20 Best American Fiction Writers under 40” list. So if you’re the kind of person who wants to read a Balkan mystery book that everybody’s talking about, written by a young author everyone is raving about, this would be your pick. (JO)
BLUE NIGHTS By Joan Didion
Can a person recover from the death of his or her child? It might be appropriate to call Joan Didion’s Blue Nights a grieving companion to her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking. The latter chronicled her life during the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, as their daughter fell suddenly ill. This newest work from one of America’s most incisive journalists circles back to her experiences as the couple’s only daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, dies shortly after John Gregory. Let’s hope it’s the end of Didion’s tragedy. (JO)
BOARD GAMES by Mary Stover
Gamers love online forums, and good ones put their almighty faith in boardgamegeek.com. It’s super-nerdy but the website is equally super-awesome. Right now, the No. 1 game on the website is Twilight
Struggle. The two-player game is about the Cold War, and unlike the romantic nostalgia that surrounds WWII, there were no Nazis to fight and no Pearl Harbors to avenge. The Cold War was fought by spies, politicians, scientists and now … you.
The game spans the 45-year debacle between the Soviet Union and the United States, pitting the superpowers against each other, fighting over the wreckage of WWII. The card-driven game requires players to move units and exert influence in an attempt to gain allies and control. Special “event cards” bring milestones like the Space Race and the Cuban Missile Crisis into the game. Gamers who know their history will fare better. Gamers who are lazy will end the game in nuclear war. (Jordy Byrd)