As the holidays enter full swing, it’s worth looking back at some of the excellent holiday music we’ve been given over the years. While most holiday songs are strictly for the holiday season with messages about snow, love and various Christmas-y things, I believe that it’s possible to review a holiday album even if it’s only relevant for 1/12th of the year.
In the seemingly infinite back catalog of holiday music, it’s hard to argue what makes a good album other than being enjoyable. Whether you adore “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey, who defrosts every holiday season to make an eye-watering amount of money, or you’re a fan of the more ridiculous songs like “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy, it’s hard to deny that Christmas music will inevitably blare in every retail store post-Thanksgiving.
One of my favorite holiday projects in recent memory remains Tyler the Creator’s “Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch,” an EP produced out of his work for the 2018 remake of “The Grinch.” Despite the lengthy title, the project comes in at only 10 minutes, which is a little ironic when you consider the length of some of the holiday songs we hear on the radio. However, what it’s lacking in size it makes up for in charm and personality – you’d be hard-pressed to find any Christmas project that sounds like this, especially since the production is solely by Tyler and his three features.
An EP this short might not be worth mentioning for many reasons, but I think that the modern sound and quirkiness of the production at least warrant giving this a listen. Traditional holiday music has the fatal flaw of having the same general messaging and structure; it often centers around traditional R&B sounds or taking a song that’s over 100 years old and remixing it (I’m looking at you Pentatonix). Holiday music carries somewhat of a stigma of being lazy and uninventive, but when the bar’s been set so criminally low, can you blame the production team or artists? What this EP does is create a rather relaxed alternative R&B sound. It doesn’t try and shove Christmas down your throat, instead conjuring up feelings of winter and holiday fun. For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, this is a lot easier to enjoy than stories of Santa Claus breaking into your house or whatever the hell a Tannenbaum is.
“When the Gloves Come Off” is a fun, mostly instrumental track that could be played as background music with a heavy jazz influence. “Hot Chocolate” is a winter song that focuses on the fun of coming inside to a warm cup of cocoa after being out in the cold. “Big Bag” is a typical Tyler, the Creator rap song by definition. Tyler delivers big drums, a wide variety of synths and a very solid vocal performance as he tells a story from the perspective of the Grinch. Even “Lights On” has Tyler do a little bit of rapping, as Ryan Beatty and Santigold sing over the punchy drums and deep synths.
Okay great, everything sounds good, but what’s the point? This EP is magnificent in its own way not only because of the quality of the songs, but also because it’s everything traditional holiday music isn’t. There are no overproduced catchy pop songs fighting for a spot on the radio. No veteran R&B singers create soundtracks for Hallmark channel movies. Instead, it’s a simple holiday project that captures the feeling of the season.
When looking at the wide variety of holiday music released, it’s obvious that they’re designed to be as commercially successful as possible and that artists are seemingly checking off a box their labels sanctioned. There’s something to be said about projects that are a little more niche. Your favorite artist creating a holiday song probably won’t get played on the radio often, but there are modern interpretations of holiday music worth listening to – adding that variety to your soundtrack can prevent holiday fatigue from kicking in early.
Overall, this EP is very short but enjoyable. It’s one of the only holiday projects I could easily play over and over again without getting tired and the production has a lot to do with that. This level of refinement and charisma is often missing from most pop holiday projects and Tyler instead delivers something tight and cohesive.
Unintentionally, the EP can teach a lot of other artists a thing about making holiday music. Instead of cashing in for a quick check (Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, and John Legend, I’m staring directly at you), artists should strive to make holiday music that’s true to their sound. The only flaw of this EP is it being too short for me to enjoy over a long car ride, but other than that I can’t recommend this project enough.