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Vinyl sales have been on the rise since 2006, and last year was the first since 1986 that vinyl sales outnumbered CDs. Consequently, fans can find vinyl releases by nearly every major artist of 2021, from superstars like Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift to more indie-leaning artsts like Phoebe Bridgers and Tame Impala.
In addition to new releases, limited-edition boxed sets have also become a popular trend: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” Deluxe Edition became an instant best-seller ahead of Peter Jackson’s anticipated “Get Back” documentary, while “The Best Of” compilations from artists like the Weeknd and Fleetwood Mac continue to be a hit. Take a look below for some of the best vinyl holiday gifts of 2021:
Olivia Rodrigo – ‘Sour’
Rodrigo catapulted into pop stardom seemingly overnight with her debut single “Drivers License” last January, and when her full album “Sour” dropped a few months later, it was clear to the entire world that Rodrigo was far from a one-hit wonder. Chart-topping tracks such as “Good 4 U” and “Deja Vu” have been praised for showcasing the 18-year-old’s vulnerable lyrics and powerful falsetto, being unabashedly teenager in the way that obvious influences such as Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift did before her. If you know a Rodrigo super-fan (and chances are, you definitely do), then this vinyl LP should be top of the list — especially if they weren’t able to snag tickets to her upcoming tour.
Bo Burnham – ‘Inside (The Songs)’
We’re no longer locked inside like during the early stages of the pandemic, but we can still enjoy some of the best (and most hilarious) songs that kept us company during quarantine. After much anticipation, the vinyl version of Bo Burnham’s genius soundtrack to his Emmy-winning comedy special “Inside” was finally released last week. The most popular song from the soundtrack is “Bezos 1,” in which Burnham ridicules the former Amazon CEO in addition to other tech founders such as Jeff Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Other songs on the soundtrack include “All Eyes on Me,” which became the first comedy song to enter the Billboard Global 200 Charts, and “White Woman’s Instagram,” a hilarious parody about social media tropes.
The Weeknd – ‘The Highlights’
All the best tracks from the Weeknd, in one place. “The Best Of” vinyl compilations can feel disjointed but it makes sense for an innovative auteur like Abel Tesfaye whose 10-plus-year career has packed in wildly different identities and phases for the singer, both as a performer and public-facing celebrity. The 18-track record includes songs such as “Can’t Feel My Face” off his 2015 album “Beauty Behind the Madness,” followed by the equally massive “Starboy,” which solidified his place in the big leagues. And with more recent hits including “Save Your Tears” and “After Hours” from his most recent album, you can be assured that whichever fan you’re gifting won’t already have this unique track list on hand.
The Beatles – ‘Let It Be’ Deluxe Edition
“Let It Be,” the final release of the Beatles’ original catalog, has gotten a lot of love this year. In addition to being memorialized through both film and book this year, the album was celebrated with a boxed vinyl set this past October, too. The special edition set was made available in several configurations, featuring a new remix by producer Giles Martin and and engineer Sam Okell, and a never-released mix of George Harrison’s “For You Blue.”
SZA – ‘Good Days’
SZA’s “Good Days” quickly made it onto Barack Obama’s annual Best Songs List before topping the Billboard Hot 100 and being nominated for a Grammy last year. The melodic track sees SZA not just singing about love and heartbreak, but also the soul-searching process of overcoming fear and shame — all over guitar-tinged riffs that fans will remember from her acclaimed debut “Ctrl.”
Adele – ’30’
Adele is reportedly set to make more than $2 million per weekend during her recently-announced Las Vegas residency which kicks off this January. And considering the astronomical prices that resale tickets are going for, you’re likely to have much more luck gifting the Adele fan in your life her deluxe vinyl set. No, it’s not the same as seeing the English pop star live (at the famous Colosseum at Ceasars Palace, no less) but it will give a retro feel to all her best hits from her latest album “30,” such as “Easy on Me,” “Oh My God” and “I Drink Wine.”
Tame Impala – ‘Slow Rush’
Tame Impala (a.k.a. multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker) faced a steep challenge in topping his 2015 album “Currents,” but he did it with “The Slow Rush.” Parker and his bandmates were in the middle of a tour when the world shut down in March of 2020, but fans were still able to connect with the album’s personal and mournful lyrics from “Slow Rush” in the months that followed.
Billie Eilish – ‘Happier Than Ever’
Billie Eilish’s life changed a lot in the years between her debut, the career-launching album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” and her most recent album, released over the summer. It’s this evolution — from the particular experience of adapting to global fame to the more universal feeling of growing up — that Eilish (and her prolific producer-brother Finneas) dive into on the 16-track record. Songs like “Not My Responsibility” and “My Future” signal Eiilish’s own maturity and self-awareness about her relationship with fame, while songs such as “Therefore I Am” and the title track “Happier Than Ever” let loose the explosive intensity and emotion that made her a star in the first place.
Taylor Swift – ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’
Purchasing and streaming Taylor Swift music has taken on new meaning since the singer began re-recording her music in 2020, on a mission to reclaim ownership over her catalogue. And one of the most exciting aspects of the “Taylor’s Version” phenomenon has been her “From the Vault” tracks, songs that never made it onto her original albums. With “Red,” Swift delivered on her promise to bring fresh material to her re-records: in addition to the long-rumored 10-minute version of “All Too Well” which took the world by storm earlier this year, the album also features brand new duets with Phoebe Bridgers, Ed Sheeran and Chris Stapleton.
Harry Styles – ‘Fine Line’
There are two kinds of people: the Gen Xers who have been in love with Styles since he first appeared on the “X Factor” stage more than 10 years ago, and those who didn’t quite understand the pop star’s McCartney-esque stage power until he reinvented himself with a prospering solo career. “Fine Line,” for which he just wrapped a critically-lauded global tour, is more than the bops and soulful ballads that make it up but a fully-realized project that successfully reintroduced the teen heartthrob as a full-fledged rock star.
Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Punisher’
If you know someone who joined the Phoebe Bridgers fandom after her breakthrough debut album “Stranger in the Alps” in 2017 then you know how intense the obsession can be. It can be almost as intense as Bridgers’ music itself, beloved for its incisive and often jarring lyrics, laid atop pretty melodies and a soft-focus production so calming that it could almost lull you asleep — that is, until you realize she’s singing from the perspective of a murderer taking their last breaths as in “Garden Song” or about her estranged father in “Kyoto,” both off her latest album “Punisher.”
Vampire Weekend – ‘Father of the Bride’
It had been four years since Ezra Koenig and his fellow band members had released music when they finally dropped “The Father of the Bride” in 2019, and it was instantly met with praise from critics, despite (if not because) of its surprising departure from the classic rock that defined the band when they released their eponymous debut album in 2008. Instead, their most recent album embraced the marriage of pop and rock at the perfect moment, when the traditional intensity of bands such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Strokes was beginning to lose its edge. Its songs such as “Unbearably White” and “How Long” (not to mention a trilogy of gorgeous duets with Danielle Haim) that make this entire album much welcome ear candy — for listeners new and old.
Kehlani – ‘It Was Good Until It Wasn’t’
“Toxic” opens Kehlani’s second studio album, an honest introduction to an entire track list of songs that’s less about any one of the R&B singer’s relationships and more a retrospective analysis of the psychology behind all of them. “I get real accountable when I’m alone,” she sings in “Toxic,” in which she grapples with her knowledge that she loves someone who’s bad for her. If the thesis of the album is about the risks of love, the argument is backed up by strong examples in songs like “Bad News” and “Can I.”
ABBA – ‘Voyage’
The pressure was on for the Swedish pop titans when they announced that they would return from their nearly 40-year hiatus with a new album. But the CD and vinyl versions of “Voyage” are already best-sellers on sites like Amazon, meaning loyal fans haven’t gone anywhere in their absence. And in a miraculous feat of nature, Abba’s new music achieved what it had to in order to be successful, tapping into powerful feelings of nostalgia while also offering refreshing contemporary pop for fans to embrace. Any ABBA fan will appreciate this gorgeous record, possibly in addition to tickets to their virtual tour.