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TYLER, THE CREATOR/ AZEALIA BANKS Christmas EPs get 7/10 and 4/10

Tyler, The Creator
Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch EP


Azealia Banks
Icy Colors Change EP
Entertainment One


Christmas is a magical, strange time in music, when recognizable “Christmasy” tunes are allowed to flourish in a fleeting rush of yuletide euphoria. On top of the standards and traditional numbers that get trotted out each December (or October in some shopping malls), many musicians record their takes on classics or contribute their own holiday numbers at this time of year.

Two contributions from hip hop’s young avant-garde elite are on show here. Whether these EPs represent an opportunity to package up some musical offcuts from unfinished projects with some new shiny wrapping, or if Tyler and Azealia have truly been bitten by a Christmas (or hum) bug, is up to the listener. However, for such seasonal releases the feeling will invariably be more charitable in December.

Tyler’s take is a nostalgic, sentimental one, drawing from his feel-good palette perfected on his latest LP, 2017’s excellent Flower Boy and his contributions to the Grinch OST for the latest reboot this holiday season. Instrumentally, vibes and piano are framed with lush strings, chimes and horns on Whoville, When the Gloves Come Off and Hot Chocolate. These brief tracks draw from a Beach Boys-meets-Christmas vibe; appropriate, as Brian Wilson’s sense of melody is possibly the most pre-adapted for turning into Christmas glee.

On Lights On, a voice-modulated Santigold leads a bouncy jaunt over a snow-covered landscape, before Tyler climbs on board the sleigh for a few verses to rhyme about trying to get home in time for Christmas. Big Bag approximates a more typical Tyler track with a rapid fire flow that puts the Grinch himself in your house, rapping about all your good things he’s putting into his “big bag”.

Closer Cindy Lou’s Wish is another micro track, sounding like a draft more than anything finished. Well, just as Santa has to work towards a Christmas deadline, so apparently did Tyler on many of these tracks I guess. Still – the brief EP does hit the Christmas mark frequently and is not a bad contribution to add to your hip Christmas playlist.

On her Icy Colors Change EP, Azealia Banks takes an entirely different approach. She contributes one Christmas original, the title track – released last year, and adds two covers of classics to make for the three track outing. On Icy Colors Change, Azealia opens with a straight up diva verse, before giving way to her more typical nasty rhyme scheme. The track oscillates between these two voices, but the chorus/diva parts are a bit hard on the ears. The track does name check lots of the Christmas sound bites (e.g., “happy holidays”, “candy cane”, “jingle bells”, “mistletoe” etc.), replete with sound effects such as sleigh bells and the like. Overall, the track is a bit all over the toy shop and does not quite provide enough Christmas, RnB or hip hop vibe, like a gift to an entire family that bores the kids, annoys the grandparents and elicits a “it’s the thought that counts” from the parents.

The two cover tracks fare slightly better. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas begins with a free-form jazz jam for a couple of minutes before dropping the main song, another croon-fest. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? also begins with an extended jazzy fanfare before launching into a piano-led cocktail bar ballad. It’s nice to hear Banks reach for those high notes on this number and get a bit out of her comfort zone with some high pitched caterwauling, but ultimately these songs indicate that her vocals strengths are as a rapper more than a singer.

In the end, Tyler’s effort gets the nod here by virtue of channelling the classic Christmas sounds with less ambitious singing than for Banks’s effort. Ultimately, such Christmas releases are good holders of your eggnog for the next week or so, but off-season they are very likely to produce the same kind of reaction as finding a stash of Christmas-themed coffee mugs in an op shop in June. Still, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?


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