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Pop Music: Digital/Nondigital
Digital: Spotify subscription, $9.99 for a month ($119.88 for a year), available at spotify.com
European music streaming site Spotify arrived to much fanfare in America this year, and much of its praise is deserved. The cloud-based service, which offers high-quality streams of more than 15 million songs, features an intuitive, engaging interface that encourages legal music sharing via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Spotify is available for free, but that version comes with various restrictions, including annoying commercials and limits on listening time. Best is to commit to the $9.99-a-month (or $119.88 per year) premium version, which eliminates the ads, provides higher-quality streaming and offers more listening options. The result is a rich entry into the world's recorded music archive, whether shopping for your oh-so-indie teen, your budding opera star sister, your auntie who loves show tunes or your hip-hop thug brother-in-law.
Nondigital: " The Smiths Box," Rhino Records. $68.99 ($499.98 for the deluxe package), available at http://www.rhino.com
Those looking for a more specific offering — or are the parents of angst-ridden teens — might consider "The Smiths Box," which provides in a handy cardboard package the entire realm of one forlorn, bitter Londoner's human suffering and existential malaise, accompanied by catchy, jangly, transcendent Brit pop. Weighing about the same as a brick, "The Smiths Box" features eight compact discs that constitute the band's full-length album output (four studio albums, three collections and a live album) over its 1982-87 life. Featuring said bitter Londoner Morrissey on vocals and his guitarist-writing partner bandmate Johnny Marr, the music that the Smiths made in England has gone on to become one of the defining sounds of the 1980s. Most important to parents of teenagers, the Smiths have become a rite of passage for new generations of sharp, emotionally sensitive youth looking for a port in the storm. Songs like "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side," "How Soon Is Now," and "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" offer the kind of comfort that you as a parent are apparently incapable of giving (at least according to your kid). This box is an unspoken acknowledgment that you understand — without having to say as much. Those who need more proof can opt for the deluxe package, which also features each release on vinyl, as well as much bonus material.'
-- Randall Roberts