CDs are the quintessential last-minute gift. They remain super convenient, and if you took our advice last year and picked up that Panic! At the Disco CD for your niece or nephew—only to have the band blow up on MTV six months later—they know that you are one step ahead of the pack, so whatever you get 'em this year will be viewed as prophetic.
And if you didn't take our advice, then take notes, lest you be mentally judged over the sarcastic drone of, “Oh, great, just what I wanted.”
First, scout your subject to find out what they like. Seek the similar but stray from the obvious. If your niece likes, say, Fall Out Boy, then chances are she already has The All-American Rejects. So get her Saosin's self-titled debut. It's a little of everything: emo, pop-punk, and the guys in the band are, like, super-dreamy.
And if your nephew dresses like the guys in My Chemical Romance, then he probably already bought the new AFI. Hip him to the old-school days of eyeliner with A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, a black leather-bound three-disc set of early goth rock that puts the thick back in gothic. Also, Brand New's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is epic, hard-edged rock with introspective lyrics about being worthless and getting dumped. Perfect for the holidays!
Maybe your subject's more into hip-hop? For the rhyme-inclined pick up Spank Rock's YoYoYoYoYo. We defy them not to get crunk to songs like “Touch Me” and “Bump,” with the solid spitting and drum-and-bass-inspired beats.
Maybe they're more into metal? Or hardcore punk? For the headbanger in question, Isis' In the Absence of Truth is akin to harder, slightly more proggy Tool. Atari Teenage Riot was a '90s band of Berlin raver-punks that imploded under the weight of their own genius (and lots and lots of drugs). They finally get their due with ATR: 1992-2000, but be careful, it might make your giftee's ears bleed (in a good way).
For the more mature gift-getters, there are plenty of choices this season, but skip Rod Stewart Sings Yet Another Bunch of Crappy Covers and get them into something new. If they like classic rock along the lines of Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac, then My Morning Jacket is still underground enough that chances are they don't have it. Their new double live disc, Okonokos, is the perfect introduction to the band's amazing catalogue. We also highly recommend Midlake's The Trial Of Van Occupanther. They're a great indie band that isn't afraid to wear their '70s rock influences on their sleeves.
For the more mellow types, The Be Good Tanyas' Hello Love is a gorgeous all-girl blend of folk and country that can appeal to Dixie Chicks fans as well as those of Joni Mitchell. If you notice some Enya or Yanni in their collection (in which case you should disown them entirely), then they can certainly be soothed and grooved by the Brazilian Girls' Talk to La Bomb, a nice mix of Parisian pop and electronica.
And if you're looking for something more holiday-inspired, then Sufjan Stevens' box set, Songs for Christmas, is a lovely and lengthy collection of the folkie's eccentrically beautiful takes on classic songs. For those with no tree but plenty of booze in the egg nog, then Bootsy Collins' Christmas is 4 Ever will rock the bells off that last-minute awkward family get-together.
So once again, good luck and a happy Festivus to all!