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Friday, Dec. 19, 2008

Your last-minute holiday gifts sorted

You can never give too many gifts over the holidays — especially the little ones. Here are some last-minute ideas for stocking-stuffers, courtesy of the regular music writers here at The Japan Times.

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J-Pop has been stuck in a rut of late, with rapidly dwindling CD sales and charts dominated by the usual boy bands, cookie-cutter idoru (manufactured entertainer) music and 1990s revivals. Who better to reaffirm your faith in pop music, then, than retro-futurist robo-popsters Perfume. Debut album "Game" provides an intriguing synthesis of image, innovation, catchiness and sophistication. Already, everyone from spunky newcomers Aira Mitsuki to veteran stars such as Suzuki Ami is jumping on the electropop bandwagon, so this could be your last chance to enjoy the sound while it's still fresh. (Ian Martin)

Perfect for: anyone who can't afford Chanel No. 5

The Flaming Lips
"Christmas on Mars"

Despite being made largely in frontman Wayne Coyne's backyard over a period of seven years on a piffling budget, the long-awaited Christmas movie by Oklahoma psych-pop band The Flaming Lips is far from flipping lame. This black-and-white tale of astronauts slowly losing their minds on a hostile planet is punctuated by disturbing hallucinations, bursts of vivid color and the Lips' typically cinematic score. Band members Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins and Kliph Scurlock put in solid screen performances, while Coyne's mute Martian is commanding and benevolent; and though the overall tone is bleak, out of the darkness springs undying hope. Dare to be moved. (Daniel Robson)

Perfect for: fans of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "It's a Wonderful Life"

David Gilmour
"Live in Gdansk"

A stunning 2006 multimedia show from the Pink Floyd talisman gets a deluxe-edition release with three CDs and 2 DVDs, featuring the Baltic Philharmonic conducted by Zbigniew Preisner. While the sad passing of the band's keyboardist Richard Wright this year has finally ended the dream of a Floyd reunion, Gilmour's performance reminds us all why the band were so revered. Shot in the Polish shipyards where Lech Walesa founded the Solidarity trade union in 1980, the set includes the entire 'On an Island' album and a mixture of classic and rare Floyd tracks played to perfection. The wealth of tidbits, such as jam sessions and live recordings from Abbey Road, will consume fans for hours. (Robert Michael Poole)

Perfect for: dads of a certain age

Yuji Takahashi
"Federico Mompou — Musica Callada"

This CD features 28 piano miniatures by Catalan composer Federico Mompou (1893-1987), who hailed from Barcelona. The mysterious title, which means "Silent Music," is from a poem by the 16th-century Spanish Carmelite friar St. John of the Cross. Sharing in the sense of silence, 70-year-old Japanese pianist and composer Yuji Takahashi recreates Mompou's elegant tunes, which feature Catalan folk songs and the gently dissonant vibration of the bell-like sounds that attracted Mompou in his childhood. (Chiho Iuchi)

Perfect for: anyone in need of quiet recovery

Nintendo DS

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Gone are the days when you needed dedicated hardware or a computer to make dance music. Now any old chump can do it with nothing but a Nintendo DS console, thanks to the KORG DS-10 Synthesizer. This nifty bit of software includes two synthesizers, modeled on the classic MS-10 analog synth, along with a drum machine, sequencer and lots and lots of knobs to twiddle. The touch-screen interface may be a little glitchy at times, but otherwise it's a powerful piece of kit that should appeal to genuine musicians as well as people who just have a lot of time to kill on their daily commute. (James Hadfield)

Perfect for: hip teens

The Ting Tings
"We Started Nothing"

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The debut album from Manchester's Ting Tings is a precious teenage-brat of an album that effortlessly blends genres of 1980s new-wave pop, funk and indie disco into a brilliantly colored melange guaranteed to have your friends drunkenly strutting their stuff around the living room. Frontwoman Katie White delivers her vocals in an in-your-face, sexy, breathy style reminiscent of Debbie Harry at her spikiest, with her lyrics mainly consisting of sneering playground taunts to foolish men. Like most adolescents, sassy can quickly turn sappy, so best skip the more maudlin tracks. (Felicity Hughes)

Perfect for: girls with attitude

F-cked Up
"The Chemistry of Common Life"

On their sophomore full-length, "The Chemistry of Common Life," Toronto's F-cked Up toy with and then pummel punk's tired boundaries. Aggressive without being overly heavy, the intelligent, relentless tracks flirt with several genres as flute, bongos, organs, strings and electronic flourishes play out alongside dense walls of expansive guitars and shouted hardcore-inspired vocals. If you can look past the naughty band name (Santa is hopefully too busy to pay attention at this point), this unlikely Christmas gift should bring a smile to any discerning hard rockers on your list. (Shawn Despres)

Perfect for: tattooed and pierced pals

collaboration razor

Named after the Japanese word for "beard," HiGE, the purveyors of skewed indie-rock, have perhaps inevitably got their own brand of razors. Produced by Feather, the MR3neo Shaver has snap-off replaceable safety blades, a unique sculpted stand and an emblem featuring HiGE's bearded mascot. Replacement blades and medicated shaving-cream are also available, and the items can be found in regular drug stores and supermarkets. A truly hair-brained idea. (Daniel Robson)

Perfect for: hirsute rockers

Jeremy Warmsley
"How We Became"

The second album by electro-acoustic indie songscribe Jeremy Warmsley has finally had a Japanese release. Heartfelt but with pop sensibilities, it's the perfect winter warmer for those still filled with a buoyant, youthful outlook on life, and will even cause those more jaded to raise a wry smile for its sharp lyrics and London drawl. The only thing that's going to bring you closer to a traditional Dickensian feeling this Christmas is those expensive mince pies you bought from the import food store. (Alex Hoban)

Perfect for: hormonal young siblings

"Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams"

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It's been a great year for old soul in new bottles. But the best of the lot is this weird and wonderful car crash of early 1970s urban R&B styles by Solange Knowles, who demonstrates a surer talent for witty experimentation than big sister Beyonce does on her "I Am . . . Sasha Fierce." Solange isn't so much possessed by the spirits of Motown and Philadelphia International as stoked by their examples. You'd have to be crazy to think you could do better, but she tries, bless her soul. (Philip Brasor)

Perfect for: the boomer who stopped listening to black music around 1976

A guitar and a book of chords

My aunt sent me the new Enya album "And Winter Came" for Christmas, and it's a work of genius compared with the indie/ alternative/punk stuff I usually write about. Yes, it's been a painfully crap year for music. I gave the Enya album to the 80-year-old lady who runs my local liquor store and told her it was "adult alternative" and she said, "No more beer for you today." What Santa should place in your loved one's stocking is a cheap acoustic guitar and a chord book so they can make their own music in 2009 and perhaps revitalize a music scene that is in E.R. (Simon Bartz)

Perfect for: 2009's "next big thing"

To buy these items and for more Christmas gift items, see The Japan Times Shopping site.

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