While the idea of doing a “cover album” versus a “cover song” is not completely new, neither has it ever much caught on. I guess there haven’t been too many artists with the fortitude, or mania, or funding, or whatever it takes, to go off and recreate a previously existing album track by track. Among the few and far between examples are Pussy Galore’s slapsdash, lo-fi 1986 cover of Exile on Main Street and the earnest live cover album released in 2002 by Mary Lee’s Corvette of Bob Dylan’s iconic Blood on the Tracks.
Now arrive a Toronto quartet called the Darcys with perhaps the most serious and most musically worthy cover album yet recorded—a smart, re-interpretive take on Steely Dan’s perfectionist 1977 album, Aja. While all recognizable, the seven songs are also each altered decisively. What was originally a glistening array of artful, jazz-inflected pop has become a brooding, arresting piece of business. Take “Josie,” which transforms a perky-but-complex song into a doleful-and-still-complex song. Note that they manage this without, really, a change in tempo. What the Darcys have done instead is eradicate the percussion, converting the song into a moody, reverbed brew of keyboards, guitars, and chanting-monk-like harmonies. What remains from the original—and what will always make Steely Dan songs Steely Dan songs—are the incomparably intricate chords, and their sometimes dazzling progressions. Hearing those chords and those progressions reanimated in this new setting is an unexpected treat.
The Darcys have one previous album, self-titled, which was released in October 2011. Although Aja was recorded in 2010—the band produced, arranged, and recorded it themselves—the album was just released late in January. The MP3 here comes via Rolling Stone, but be aware that the band is giving away the entire Aja album on its web site, if you are willing to give them an email address. They are also selling a limited-edition, 180-gram colored vinyl version. I recommend at least a listen, and would point you in the direction of “Peg” in particular.