Free and legal MP3: The Darcys (irregular, arresting Steely Dan cover)

By eliminating the drums, the Darcys have converted a classic Steely Dan song into a moody, reverbed brew of keyboards, guitars, and chanting-monk-like harmonies. The tempo’s the same, the chords are the same, but everything’s different.

The Darcys

“Josie” – The Darcys

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.

Free and legal MP3: The Heligoats (chunky & moody but w/ spunk)

A chunky, cheerfully moody antidote to anything (everything) you might be hearing out there in the “popular” realm during this newly-christened “golden age” of pop (hey, don’t look at me, it’s Billboard’s idea).

Live Free and Let Loose

“A Word From Our Sponsor” – the Heligoats

A chunky, cheerfully moody antidote to anything (everything) you might be hearing out there in the “popular” realm during this newly-christened “golden age” of pop (hey, don’t look at me, it’s Billboard‘s idea). “A Word From Our Sponsor” is rhythmic (but you can’t dance to it), the vocals are filtered (but not Auto-Tuned), and if there’s a synthesizer to be heard, it’s masquerading as a guitar (but I don’t think there’s a synthesizer to be heard). And listen to those guitars, will ya? They’re heavy and grumbly and played by actual human fingers. This is a song that catches the ear through the vague alchemy of craft and spirit, of vocal presence and lyrical spunk. You won’t hear it on the radio.

The Heligoats are a quartet from Bellingham, Washington fronted by Chris Otepka, last seen around these parts as lead singer for the Chicago-based Troubled Hubble, featuring on Fingertips back in 2005, not too long before they broke up. I hope it wasn’t something I said. The Heligoats actually co-existed with Troubled Hubble for most of that band’s existence, but did not get around to a recording debut until 2008.

“A Word From Our Sponsor” is from the 10-inch split EP Live Free and Let Loose, coming next month from Greyday Records, based in Portland, Ore., featuring four songs from the Heligoats (the Let Loose side) and six songs from singer/songwriter Sam Humans (the Live Free side).