It's that time of year again. You've probably done most of your holiday shopping, but for those procrastinators, here's a collection of my favorite gifts I've received this year. From epic CD and DVD collections to cool little gadgets, it's been a good year for both pop and high culture. Enjoy!
The Smile Sessions provide a window into the psyches of Brian, Carl, and the rest of the blond-haired boys as they worked on the follow-up to Pet Sounds, arguably their greatest musical achievement. It's clear there was a lot of tension in the air, and some of these tracks play like outtakes from a reality show, but there's also a ton of whimsy in Smile that distinguishes it from its more serious predecessor. Smile proves to be a different kind of genius, the wild free-wheeling kind that picks up a melody for four bars and then chucks it aside as wave of inspiration overtakes. The sessions format proves ideal for seeing just how the gears were working in Brian Wilson's mind.
Miles!: The Definitive Miles Davis at Montreux DVD Collection -- $134.99
It's impossible to sum up what Miles Davis means to music or the influence he's had on musicians across genres. He was a restless spirit who constantly reinvented himself and thus transcended jazz. This 10-DVD collection brings together every single concert the trumpeter played from 1973-1991 at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival. It's an amazing time capsule, and the wet dream of any serious music lover. It's one of the happiest additions to my collection.
Roku 2 XS -- $99
Roku has made a savy product even better with a new generation of players that shrink the box to smaller than an iphone while enlarging the remote. I think this last part is particularly great as I lost the remote for the my last player. It now sits sad and alone by my tv with no one to play with, but I digress. Roku's also added an impressive number of channels to make it more than just a Netflix box. Highlights include the Roku Newscaster, which lets you watch a live video stream of Al Jazeera along with audio streams from BBC, ESPN, and others. Hopefully, they'll add video for these too in the future. More frivolous options include: Angry Birds -- for the addicted masses who crave it on a larger screen, a free movie streaming service called Crackle, and a channel devoted solely to up-and-coming stand-up comedians -- proceed at your own risk on that one. Many others require subscriptions, but with over 200 channels, there are plenty of freebies.
This fine bourbon distillery runs a little wild with these small batch bottled experiments that have been aging for nine years. Making one with rice and the other with oats, the result is a lighter yet more resonant flavor than the traditional rye yields. It wows, shocks, and baffles. It doesn't reveal itself to you in the first sip or five. It tastes fully of the map cap experiment it was. If you can get your hands on one of these rare bottles, it would make a great stocking stuffer for the single malt guy or gal in your life.
Dewar's 18 Year Old Founders Reserve Blended Whiskey -- $75 750ml bottle
Blended whiskey often gets a bad wrap with the word blended somehow being replaced by watered down in many people's minds. I was of this mind too until I attended a Dewar's blending event earlier this year where I got to blend my very own glass from a choice group of Laphroaig, Macallan, and many others. The year, on the bottle refers to the youngest single malt that's in the bottle. The result is remarkably smooth.
UNTUCKit shirts, like its name suggest, are meant to be worn hanging out. Tailored to fall at the perfect length to create a focused look, they come in many styles from more casual checkered patterns to straight-up dress shirts that could be worn to more formal events. I love pairing sport coats with jeans, and their Central Otago has become a staple in my wardrobe. These designs walk that fine line between feeling good and looking sharp. Who knows, this could be the beginning of the end for those who tuck in.
Sometimes gifts are suppose to be a little ridiculous and frivolous. That's where cookies.com comes in. They take a dozen oreos, dip them in white chocolate, add sprinkles of your choice colors, and then if that's not enough, top it off with an image of your choice. I went with the logo from Bob Clark's cult classic Black Christmas, which shows they'll do just about anything for you. I just wish there were more cookies. Oreos go fast!
The Office: 10th Anniversary Special Edition -- $29.99
It would be special enough, if these DVDs simply contained all the episodes of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's brilliant show about corporate banality, but there are many cool extras including in-depth introduction to each episode in the first season by the creators that seamlessly flows into the episodes themselves. There's also a couple documentaries and the original pilot, which was shot in a different "office," making me aware of just how much the set can influence the way that you view the show. A must have for fans of the show.
The late Krzysztof Kieślowski is one of the more unsung giants of cinema. His ten-part television series, The Decalogue, vividly examined the implications of each of the Ten Commandments and his Three Colors trilogy is no less of a crowning achievement. These three features examine loss and desperation with a grace and restraint that's rarely seen. Red, White, and Blue ask confounding questions that illuminate upon repeat viewing, making this an ideal set for the film lover on your list.
This new box set of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander contains both the epic theatrical version and then even more epic 312-minute television version that expresses the Swedish director's complete vision. I find it endlessly fascinating to compare two versions of a film. Why were certain cuts made and what is gained or lost by these decisions. Bergman himself answers this in a documentary about the making of the film, which he directed himself. All in all a mini film school of sorts in a box.
This LapGear creation is not only made from 100 percent renewable resources, it's built to last. I love working on this "desk" from my bed, couch and other places around my apartment. The bamboo wood is thick enough to feel as if you're actually working at a desk without weighing down your lap. The buckwheat hulls filled padding keeps you cozy and surprisingly cool.
Kindle Fire -- $199
I love my Kindle, but when I recently got a Kindle Fire, it opened up new possibilities. The first thing I did was download the graphic novel, Watchmen, on it. It's been on my reading list for awhile, and now seemed like the perfect time to delve in. The images look fantastic on the Fire's 7" display. Movies look pretty good too, and the Netflix app and Amazon Prime makes it easy to watch movies wherever there's a wifi connection. I always take my laptop on trips, but the Kindle Fire makes a case for a lightweight alternative.
As the colder months creep in, the desire to trek out to your favorite coffee supplier might diminish. That's where Craft Coffee comes in. The artisanal club, ships members three different kinds of coffee each month complete with tasting notes and info about where each batch was grown.
Pianist Glenn Gould is best known for his inspired interpretations of Bach, which are certainly on display in this comprehensive DVD collection. Spanning more than three decades, these recordings also give insight into Gould's thoughts. He declares, "I don't think there's an excuse for a performance that simply duplicates what's been done before," this is an idea that flows through his work. The greatest thing about Gould as an artist is that he forced his audiences to re-examine classic works they thought they knew and to allow them to hear those works by Bach, Beethoven and others with completely fresh ears. It's surprising then that he expresses such disdain for the people who listened to him. "I detest audiences; I find them a force of evil," he utters in the middle of an interview. Thankfully, he performed anyway.