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Business Casual

Holiday Bonus (2020)

4.7

November 22, 2021

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Feliz Navidad 4.7
2 Jingle Bell Rock 4.7
3 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 5.0
4 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4.3
5 I'll Be Home For Christmas 4.3
6 Auld Lang Syne 4.7

Recorded 2020
Total time: 18:26, 6 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Feliz Navidad 5
2 Jingle Bell Rock 5
3 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 5
4 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 5
5 I'll Be Home For Christmas 5
6 Auld Lang Syne 5

Surely fans have been enjoying Holiday Bonus since last December, and maybe throughout all the seasons since. Business Casual is the holiday office party: if you're looking for rollicking fun, the cubicles are hopping tonight.

Like other musicians performing together but apart last year, Business Casual recorded and produced Holiday Bonus in long-distance fashion. With the group's talented technical team stitching it together (tenor Roshun Alur gets the bulk of the credit, with mastering and some mixing credits also going to Bill Hare), the cohesive aural smoothness of Holiday Bonus deserves as much praise as the high-energy vocal performances.

Everything here is style, style, style, and rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. Feliz Navidad has a tropical bossa nova breeze fluttering by to set the tone, and is so damn charming it's honestly hard to continue past track one, because why? Why leave this joyful setting? Turns out every note is infused with excitement on Holiday Bonus, so you can march forth to swingy, playful Jingle Bell Rock. Or traverse the twists and turns of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which starts with a wordless orchestral opening before dropping a nearly superhero theme song approach. In case you've forgotten, Business Casual has mastered bold jazz runs that sound like they should have been there in the first place, and absolutely blissful musical accordance.

What's become of iconic Rudolph in the imaginations of Business Casual? I can assure you that this band is very, very excited about that particular reindeer. We get a chance to sit back and zen out for the first time with a simpler but devastatingly elegant I'll Be Home for Christmas. Don't get too cashmere-and-cozy hygge, though: Auld Lang Syne is going to blow your hair back. This is an absolute triumph of a closer; the credits give a nod to Mumford & Sons for the inspiration, but if you're a whiskey drinker I think you'll hear The Dubliners in there, too. What a blast. What fun!

If your holiday collection needs a highly inventive, cleanly sung, upbeat romp of a release, Holiday Bonus should fit the bill for years to come.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Feliz Navidad 4
2 Jingle Bell Rock 5
3 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 5
4 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 5
5 I'll Be Home For Christmas 4
6 Auld Lang Syne 5

Honestly, who doesn't like a good holiday album? They're full of joy, spirit and nostalgia, sending you to a time long past but never forgotten. And I can say that past Christmases came surging back to me as I traversed each track of Business Casual's latest album, Holiday Bonus. If you're looking for music with vintage, effervescent, and vocally complex appeal to fill the holiday season, look no further. Business Casual's new EP delivers six Christmas classics that have been infused with a modern twist, capable of stoking a flame within listeners that soothes the soul.

The opening track Feliz Navidad recreates the same joy found in José Feliciano's original while upping the Latin flair with tantalizing vocal horns, a salsa dance vibe, and vibrant choruses. The song fluctuates between offering a smooth and beautiful ambiance to being an irresistible dance number packed with energy that all will enjoy.

Jingle Bell Rock is rich with vocal skill bringing enjoyment to listeners. The track is a great marriage of fun and complexity, showcasing talented leads with natural chemistry, a bouncy bass line, and rhythmic vocal lines to keep listeners engaged. Percussionist Michael Wang displays such a rich toolkit of sounds, giving the song an even livelier boost. And to top it off, the track is flawlessly balanced.

And the fire continues burning with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. To play big band music is challenging enough, but to vocalize it with only five voices is astonishing. The scatting, style switch-up to choral singing, pulsing momentum and slick yet playful slide-off note at the end just makes this track great!

And while each track on this EP is special, I have a fondness for the group's rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. From the opening I could sense the influence of The Temptations in the arrangement, which played often throughout my childhood. Business Casual gave me absolute chills not only recreating an authentic Motown vibe, but with the added nuances in the latter part of the song. We're talking a Sister Act reference, a Sunday church service band breakdown and vocal harmonica. The EP wins simply for this track!

The choice to make I'll Be Home for Christmas a group number was a smart decision, affording listeners a short respite from the high-energy numbers previously heard. Furthermore, the track displays a phenomenal bass solo that's warm, deep, and resonant.

The final track, Auld Lang Syne, screams folk holiday goodness! While inspired by Mumford & Sons, Business Casual brings immense vocal diversity to the song. Harmonies are more present, vocals are more animated, and the ambiance is incredibly unpredicted. This track shows how the group is constantly upping its game.

Not to sound too cliché, but Holiday Bonus would make for an absolute bonus to anyone's holiday season. The music is riveting and passionate and brings fresh concepts to songs that you've probably heard a dozen times. Whether you have a holiday party planned or need music for Christmas morning, keep this EP close by.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Feliz Navidad 5
2 Jingle Bell Rock 4
3 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 5
4 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 3
5 I'll Be Home For Christmas 4
6 Auld Lang Syne 4

Business Casual burst on the scene in 2019 with its self-titled, full-length album, wow-ing us with the "ingenuity" and "sustained creative energy" that went into its spot-on genre reimaginings of well-known hits. These musicians attempt to replicate that same formula with Holiday Bonus, a six-song offering of holiday classics sung with a twist. But while some of the creative curveballs they throw sizzle, others miss the mark.

Let's start with the really good news: Business Casual can still blow the house down with powerhouse vocals and tight group chemistry, especially the rhythm section of bass Jacob Chamoun and vp Michael Wang. The soloists awe with their dulcet but mighty tones. Bill Hare continues to augment each song's musical direction through his mastering so they sound impossibly clear.

The songs are also still keen renderings of the genres they imitate. Feliz Navidad becomes a bossa nova chart that, though not a drastic sonic departure from the original song, finds a different (and maybe better?) groove. While Rasoul Alur's smooth solo will draw you into the track, you'll stay for the eclectic percussion sounds. The Jingle Bell Rock medley sounds straight out of the late 1950s, especially Cassandra Greene Chamoun's Brenda Lee impression. The group seemingly effortlessly switches between the unlikely duo of church choir and scatting jazz quintet on God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, arranged in collaboration with Isaiah Carter. They also do their best Pentatonix-Christmas-ballad impersonation on I'll Be Home for Christmas, albeit it with more reharmonizations and fewer solo moments. Though the exposed chart lays bare some tiny balance and blend issues, none are significant enough to derail the track.

Auld Lang Syne, too, sounds eerily similar to Mumford & Sons' Little Lion Man (including the too-long instrumental bridge buildup). But while the Scots-Irish-UK song/genre pairing should work in theory, it never quite coheres for me; the abrupt transitions and too many of the background sounds jar me out of the track. Some listeners might be turned off by the bits of twang; but I actually wanted the group to lean into it more, to relish the overtones that timbre creates. While this track is not my cup of tea, I would love to hear Business Casual cover the band for real (or maybe reimagine a different song in that style).

I vibed with the extended harmonica solo of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But reimagining the song as a soul jam with a double-time gospel ending feels gratuitous and out of left field, and not in a good way. Even Asul and guest duet partner Bakari Holmes's falsettos and riffs could not pull me in. Bottom line: I can't answer the question "What did covering in this style bring to this song?", when for so many of Business Casual's charts, including on Holiday Bonus, I can and with great detail.

When you hang your hat on out-of-the-box, canny reinterpretations, the few that don't land stick out. But a few missteps should not deter Business Casual from continuing to make gutsy and often inspired musical choices.

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