Waking Life: A Music Mix For December 2017

<p>(Photo:&nbsp;Jacob Blickenstaff / courtesy of the artist)</p>
<p>Sharon Jones</p>
Photo: Sharon Jones press photo
Sharon Jones

So here we are, at long last: the 12th and final Waking Life playlist of 2017. There have been ups and downs in a year that has sometimes felt much longer than that, but musically speaking it's been all ups around here. (I managed to fill this year's playlists with 380 standout cuts, after all). Next time I'll highlight my favorite among those, but for now it's one last batch of new, recent and upcoming songs I'm digging.

Given the time of year, I thought maybe a musical gift guide of sorts might be a fitting way to approach this month's picks. I also thought it would be tone deaf not include at least one new seasonal number, so I submit Rostam's recent update on the modern Christmas classic "A Fairytale in New York," originally released 30 years ago by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Rostam's version finds him joined by the UK-based singer COSHA. It's pretty great, mostly for the fact that it took zero liberties with the original. No need to mess with perfection.

Moving from holiday music we've been gifted to music we might consider gifting for the holidays (now that's a segue!), music is always a solid go-to. Even if you don't know the specific music a giftee might have asked for, sometimes giving something that you love can mean a lot. Along those lines, Wilco has just reissued its first two records, 1995's "A.M." and 1996's "Being There," remastered and with generous helpings of unreleased and bonus cuts. Contrary to some opinions, one need not be a dad to enjoy. "Myrna Lee," one of the unreleased songs on "A.M.," begins as something of a light song but eventually becomes unexpectedly poignant.

While most of what's included on this month's playlist won't be out in physical form until 2018, there are at least a couple of other solid gifting options. It's hard to ever go wrong with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, and last month's posthumous "Soul of a Woman" does nothing to change that. It's the final chapter in the band's 16-year history following the passing of the famously dynamic singer last year. "Sail On!" is every bit the classic Dap-Kings burner among a collection that will further cement Jones' place among the best of this or any other generation.

Karl Blau, meanwhile, follows up the country covers record he put out a couple of years back with a record that includes a few Dap-Kings-style horns of its own.. The first few songs on his new "Out Her Space" find him returning to the experimental sounds of most of his past releases. But then he makes a 180º and comes across like a Pacific Northwest Van Morrison presenting an edgier "Astral Weeks." That's a take, anyway.

Sufjan Stevens ("The Greatest Gift," his addendum to last year's "Carrie & Lowell," goes well beyond a fans-only listen) and Jim James (his new full-length covers record "Tribute to 2" is out later this week) are also here with pre-holiday releases that will have wide appeal.

Hope springs eternal in the heart of the new music fan, and lucky you if the description fits. The 2018 selections here bode well for the new year ahead. This includes the returns of familiar names like Superchunk, Young Fathers and Alela Diane, who shares a stunning new cut called "Émigré" from her upcoming release "Cusp."

Ah, but that's hardly it! There are jams, ballads, reflections, and stompers from the likes of Django Django, First Aid Kit, The Go! Team, Marlon Williams, Sunflower Bean and more.

Dig in, set to shuffle and enjoy -- last gasps and first tastes in another year of your waking life.