For all of the convenience that streaming services offer, there’s just no razzle-dazzle to giving the music fanatic on your list a gift card for Spotify. And face it, they probably prefer Tidal’s lossless option anyway.
As ever, Playboy is a friend to the audiophile, and also a friend to the friend of the audiophile; in that spirit, we present the best of this year’s vinyl box sets. Whether you’re shopping for your stoner aunt or sad nephew, you’ll find something they’ll like below. And if you also want to pick something up for yourself, well, we have no doubt you’ve been good this year and that the Rihanna box set would look great on your bookshelf.
Who Can I Be Now? (1974 To 1976)
Of course you still miss Bowie. We all miss Bowie. We’re all going to miss him for as long as we’re all here. So it’s not like you need a reminder of his genius, but Who Can I Be Now? (1974 To 1976) is a testament that the man did more with three years time than most artists do with a lifetime. A 13-album set, studiously remastered by Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti, Who Can I Be Now? (1974 To 1976) includes three of his most acclaimed albums (1974’s glamsterpiece Diamond Dogs, 1975’s blue alien soul opus Young Americans and 1976’s mindblowing Station to Station) as well as two live sets and a full album of b-sides and remixes. It also includes The Gouster, a previously unreleased album that features early and often quite wild versions of songs that would eventually comprise Young Americans. All told, the box set answers the titular question with a resounding “Whoever you feel like, Mr. Bowie.”
The Studio Albums 2000-2011
Saddle Creek Records
This set collects remastered versions of most of the major studio albums from Conor Oberst’s era-defining folk army, minus some early stuff. The set spans from the early bloodletting of Fevers and Mirrors to the operatic Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, all the way to the possible swansong The People’s Key. Whether or not you used these albums as a security blanket to get through the Bush Administration, you’ll find comfort, raw empathy and a bit more humor than you’d expect.
Omnivore Recordings Call it Third, Sister Lovers or simply heartbreaking on all levels, the third album from the beloved and beleaguered proto-indie group Big Star is the stuff of legend, both for its troubled genesis and for timeless testaments to inner torment such as “Holocaust” and “Kanga Roo.” This box set collects every scrap of brilliance from the chaotic recording sessions as well as liner notes that attempt to explain the madness a little.
Though Perry Farrell’s post-Jane’s projects and Dave Navarro’s reality TV career have dimmed the luster of Jane’s Addiction a bit, they were a force of nature in their prime. For proof, check out this set, which collects their legend-making albums Ritual De Lo Habitual and Nothing’s Shocking, along with the live collection Live At The Hollywood Palladium 1990 and an album of rarities. The titanic third side of Ritual alone (“Three Days” into “Then She Did”) basically earns them a lifetime pass.
Day of the Dead - Grateful Dead Tribute
Stand by the river long enough, you’ll see yesterday’s cool new sound float by, and then you’ll look up notice that suddenly liking the Grateful Dead is super in right now. Curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National, this mammoth 59-song collection features contributions from basically everyone who matters in the adult wing of indie rock, including Sharon Van Etter, Angel Olsen, the War on Drugs and even Fucked Up. It’s a lot—perhaps too much. But fans of the Grateful Dead have shown themselves to be up for kicking back and just letting the music overtake them, man.
Studio Album Vinyl Box
With her ambitious latest album Anti, Rihanna made it clear that in addition to the being the girl with the fewest fucks to give, she now demands to be taken seriously as an artist. As such, now is the time to revisit her back catalog, much of it presented here for the first time on vinyl. You know the hits, but do you know the rest? This package also includes a 186-page hardback book of accompanying imagery, which probably won’t compare to her Instagram but should give you something to look at while jamming anew to “Cockiness (Love It).”
Ride the Lightning Remastered Deluxe Box Set
While the gods of metal probably went a little overboard in paying tribute to their standard setting second album (no one requested two different interviews with Lars Ulrich in one set), it’s hard to argue with several live albums that find the band settling into world-shredding form. Also included is a DVD of their performance at the 1985 German Hammer Festival as well as an Oakland Stadium set captured by MTV, in which this fearsome band seem young and innocent, their long manes whipping about joyfully as James Hetfield let’s ‘em all know for whom the bells tolls.
The Crane Wife 10th Anniversary 5 LP Box Set
The Decemberists’ breakthrough album The Crane Wife was quite a bit to unpack, containing as it did two different song suites in excess of 10 minutes. So it’s fitting that the 10th Anniversary five-LP box set should up the indulgence even further, with a live performance recorded for NPR, one album of outtakes and two albums of demos. Hamilton fans take note: the foreword for the liner notes were written by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda, who probably did not throw away his shot to wax rhapsodic about Colin Meloy’s storytelling skills.
TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 (1976-1991) & The Complete Studio Albums Volume 2 (1994-2014)
It is an incontestable fact that one should not go to a bar that does not have Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits on the jukebox. And God help you if you ever try to roadtrip without it. But don’t’ think that familiarity with that essential document lets you off the hook for not knowing the rest of the Dean of American Rock’s back catalog. If you have neglected your study of Damn the Torpedoes key cut “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” or the Full Moon Fever highlight “A Mind With a Heart of Its Own,” or have simply not stopped and appreciated the fact that Petty and Co. have been doing the damn thing for four decades, then these sets are an ideal opportunity to correct that.
We wouldn’t be Playboy if we didn’t point out that December is often a cold and lonely month; should you want to do something about that, this two-album set from the ever-fabulous French pop group Air should help you clench the deal. The first album is a selection of highlights from their illustrious career as the makers of the finest space-age bachelor pad music of the past two decades, the second is a collection of welcome rarities. All of it should get things uncorked.