Do you remember the first album you were given, the one you listened to over and over, thereby solidifying your love and passion for music, as evidenced by you showing up at midnight sales on release day, roaming vinyl stacks when on vacation or staying up all night to make a mixtape for a lover, with every song in the right place? Or do you remember when your parents brought you to the music store to buy you your first little ax? All you knew was that Hendrix played a Strat and Page played a Les Paul—and, damnitall, both were too expensive.
The gift of music is a mighty thing. Music and songs hold memories, much as a smell can bring you back to “that one time.” And they offer us the potential to either lose ourselves or become more ourselves through expression. There isn’t a more powerful present.
Starlight On the Rails & Other Songs, a Utah Phillips Songbook, $30
Utah Phillips was many things: anarchist, labor organizer, rabble-rouser, poet, iconoclast, artist and (what he wanted to be known for most) a musician and lyricist. His son, Duncan, has helped with the latter by republishing Utah’s 1973 songbook Starlight on the Rails. Going beyond the original, it includes excerpts from the four-CD box set of the same name that Utah released to serve as his oral autobiography. It’s the mother of all songbooks, with lyrics and music for dozens of Utah’s classic country songs—everything from hobo jungles to hitting the rails to political activism in practice—and the stories behind them. TheLongMemory.com
Vox amPlug, $39.95
Want that jangly Vox sound but without pissing off your neighbors? Vox created the amPlug for those late-night shred sessions and for musicians needing to practice on the go. You can plug headphones into this small, battery-powered amp simulator; Vox offers an assortment of styles, from the classic AC30 to the high-gain Night Train to metal. Or you can run the amPlug into speakers for more options. With three knobs—tone, gain and volume—you can dial your tone in, and all without breaking the bank. VoxAmps.com
Shut Up & Play the Hits, $19.99+
Shut Up & Play the Hits captures LCD Soundsystem’s final concert at Madison Square Garden, and it’s chock-full of the indie-dance-rock band’s fine repertoire of cuts, all in HD. Woven into the concert footage is a probing, insightful interview that frontman James Murphy did with Chuck Klosterman. Directors Dylan Southern and William Lovelace also follow Murphy around during the days leading up to the big show, splicing in quiet moments to juxtapose the concert free-for-all. If LCD Soundsystem ain’t your thing, other fresh, Sundance Film Festival-worthy documentaries are available on DVD this winter, like The Art of Rap and Searching for Sugar Man. ShutUpAndPlaytheHits.com
Etymotic ER20 Earplug, $12.95
Without making the expensive leap into the world of custom earplugs, these little high-fidelity decibel-blockers are the best investment that a frequent concert-goer can make. Don’t waste your quarters on foam anymore; these plugs drop the frequency by up to 20 decibels but replicate the natural response of sound in the air, so you hear the tunes fairly clean. Let’s face it, it sucks to drop $50 on a concert ticket and either not hear the music because of crappy plugs or have that two-day ringing in your skull afterward. Etymotic.com
Novation Twitch, $399
Designed as an intro into DJ equipment, the Novation Twitch gives beat conductors and party people pro-grade controls and an incredible ease of use at an entry-level price point. Most beginner-level controllers are basic, but this incorporates fun effects—splicing, 16 triggerpads, touchstrips and rotary controls—and also works well with any type of user interface, such as Serato or Ableton Live. It’s perfect for DJing at the bar or droppin’ tunes in your basement. US. NovationMusic.com
Donation to Nonprofit
I’ll never forget the Christmas when I gave my mom a framed piece of paper that stated that I donated a goat to someone in Africa in her name. Yup, she would have preferred earrings, but I think that, sometime later, deep down, she really appreciated it. There are a number of local music-related nonprofits that you could donate to in a friend’s or family member’s name. Or, you could just give the organization a little present yourself. Consider KRCL, Excellence in the Community or Utah Musician’s Radio, among others.
Guitar String Ring, $4.95
Wear Your Music offers everything from vinyl bowls to bracelets made from guitar strings used by real rock stars, from awesome (Les Claypool) to “seriously?” (Bryan Adams). But check out the one-size-fits-all ring. It’s cheap, looks cool and is fun to fiddle with when you’re thinking up lyrics to your debut gangsta-rap LP. They come in Backstage Black, Rock Star Red and Simply Silver—might we also suggest future lines of Green Room Green and Too Much Coke White? WearYourMusic.org
Wines That Rock, prices vary
What do the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd all have in common? Yes, they all sound better on vinyl, but that’s not what I was looking for. They’ve all become varieties of wine by long-haired winemaker Mark Beaman, who has blended grapes to distill the essence of each of these classic bands—The Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon and Rolling Stones’ Forty Licks Merlot, for example. While they aren’t readily available at Utah’s state liquor stores, like many wines, they can be special-ordered by the case at the store. WinesThatRock.com
Rage Against the Machine, XX, $95
Knowing that Rage Against the Machine turns 20 this year makes me feel old. But, in my oldness, I’ve started to collect stuff—at least I’ll have something to show for all these wasted years. The politically angsty Zach de la Rocha-led envoy blazed trails in the world where hip-hop meets metal, but they also taught headbangers to give a fuck about the system and buck it. To celebrate all those raging years, this November, they released a box set titled XX that includes their debut album, live concert footage and a treasure trove of other goodies. For the collection-minded old fogies in your life, other editions and box sets, like Paul Simon’s Graceland and the definitive Elvis box set, were released this year and are worth considering.
DigiTech iPB-10, $419+
Want an effects pedal but can’t decide which one? Why not just get 87? Well, that would be outrageously expensive, but thanks to Digitech’s programmable pedalboard, that many digital effects—many modeled after the classics—are at your disposal. And when using an iPad (not included), there is a level of controllability and flexibility never before seen in a pedalboard or pedal chain: A few swipes and punches can save tons of time fiddling with cables and power plugs. If you like your settings, you can save that preset and come back to it. DigiTech.com