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It's (Maybe) a Wrap

A mix of the material and the intangible in our annual Gift Guide

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It happens every few years: we look in our closet, attic or garage, or those two boxes we've been lugging around for the past three moves and have forgotten what's inside, and we say, "Damn, I should have listened to George Carlin. I have too much stuff."

The holidays, of course, are all about stuff. "Stuffy stuffy stuff stuff!" shout the holidays, "Buy more stuff!"

For this year's Gift Guide, we haven't eschewed material gifts altogether, but you'll find a healthy mix of experiences along with must-have presents that one can wrap in a box. Most of those experiences are entirely local—and along that thought, we continue to remind readers to seek out the locally owned, independent shops for tactile gifts. (In fact, next week's issue is devoted entirely to that very ethos.)

Here are a few of our recommendations this year.

GLUED TO THE SCREEN

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Chromecast ($35) is a tiny, USB-powered HDMI dongle that's inexpensive and streams anything in Google's Chrome browser, from any device, directly to a television. It's a little buggy, and there isn't as much support for it as one might like just yet, but it makes hanging out and watching YouTube videos with friends a whole lot more social. Of course, web-to-TV devices have been around for several years, the two other big ones being Apple TV and the Roku box. . . . Apple TV ($99) does basically the same thing as Chromecast, but it's more of a set-top box designed to replace or augment cable TV. It allows wireless mirroring from any Apple device, and has apps for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. . . . Roku ($50–$100) does basically the same thing, again, minus the mirroring—it's purely an app-driven box, but it has more choices, costs less and still offers the best interface of the three. . . . The PlayStation 4 ($399), no longer just for video games, can also act as a web-to-TV interface. With an eight-core processor and sleek, modern design, it's a natural progression from the PS3. It plays Blu-Ray movies and games, connects online for downloading apps for streaming services and more. Users can easily record and share up to 15 minutes of game play, which will only add to the amount of popular YouTube videos of in-game play. . . . Microsoft's Xbox One ($500; microsoftstore.com) is a similar gaming console but integrates paid TV service (like cable) and comes with the Kinect motion and voice controller. Instead of a remote, users just flail their arms at the TV and speak like people in old movies trying to talk to natives on a tropical island. . . . It's not available on PS4 or Xbox One just yet, but Grand Theft Auto V ($60) is the hottest game, well, ever. The lives of the multiple protagonists are so detailed, each even uses a different cell phone based on personality type. Up to 16 players can play online simultaneously, and there will be plenty of potential teammates in this virtual world—the game earned $1 billion in sales its first three days on the market. —Nicolas Grizzle

ON THE STEREO

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The world's music listeners are spinning records again, as Billboard reports vinyl sales in 2012 to have skyrocketed 500 percent since 2007. There's a chance you've got someone on your list asking for physical albums again, and luckily the music industry has responded. Many major new releases are pressed on LP now, including Lorde, M.I.A., Pearl Jam, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Paul McCartney and plenty more—and reissues of classic material abound. For electronic music fans, the recent Boards of Canada reissues are perfect pressings of very hard-to-find albums, while world music fans will be thrilled with the just-released Manu Chao back catalogue. The Beatles' At the BBC, Vol. 2 is fresh, too, as is Bob Dylan's Another Self-Portrait and the Grateful Dead's One From the Vault (a deluxe three-LP set). The German site Vinyl-Digital carries a number of rare hip-hop bootlegs from Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, and Nashville's Third Man Records has a box set designed to give palpitations to any blues fan: 'The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917-1932 Vol. 1' contains six LPs, a 250-page book, another 360-page book and a USB drive designed to look like a Victrola needle. The whole thing's housed in a quarter-sewn, velvet-lined oak cabinet, and costs a whopping-but-worth-it $400. . . . Shopping for the beginner who needs a turntable? Avoid cheap portable Crosley turntables, or just about any unit sold at Urban Outfitters. A nice introductory record player is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60-USB, priced at around $175 (and available locally at the Last Record Store). It's solid, durable and comes with a USB output to digitize older records. . . . This has been a good year for music books. Questlove, drummer for the Roots, has released two: an autobiography called 'Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove,' and the definitive story of Don Cornelius' pioneering show, 'Soul Train: The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation.' . . . Morrissey's long-awaited autobiography has cross-generational appeal, and no one writes quite as beautifully, or miserably. . . . Stanley Crouch's 'Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker' is a remarkable, in-depth book about jazz's towering visionary, and 'The Riot Grrrl Collection' serves as a comprehensive anthology of a turning point in punk and indie rock. . . . finally, Bernie Krause's 'Great Animal Orchestra' was reprinted this year, and weaves together the sounds of nature with modern music; if you were blown away by that popular Facebook post of a recording of crickets slowed down, sounding like human voices, this book is for you. . . . Much like Miles Scott simply asked "I want to be Batkid," your teenager might simply ask, "I want to make beats." The best new software to realize this wish includes ACID Music Studio 9, which interacts well with MIDI and live instruments; FL Studio, which is perfect for beginners but lacks more specialized editing capabilities; and Mixcraft 6, which has a huge library of sounds. Don't forget headphones—if you want something cheaper (and better) than the ubiquitous Beats By Dre models, go for our recommendation: Audio-Technica's ATH-M50 Headphones, which are crisp, dynamic and should last for years to come.—Gabe Meline

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