Archive for the ‘ALBUMS’ Category

L.A.-via-New York rockers Slothrust today announced that their fifth album, “Parallel Timeline,” will be out via Dangerbird Records.

Having teased the project with the release of “Cranium” last month, the band (core trio of singer-guitarist Leah Wellbaum, drummer Will Gorin and bassist Kyle Bann) celebrated the announcement with the release of a new single and video.

“Strange Astrology” is a ballad, giving Wellbaum a chance to shine. And she does. “‘Strange Astrology’ is one of the only proper love songs I have ever written,” she says. “It’s an honest exploration of what it means to love someone who is intrinsically different than you. It’s about hoping that those juxtaposing qualities and instincts encourage meaningful growth instead of chaos, but knowing that inevitably it will always be a bit of both. That is part of the fun of being in love with someone whose way of being starkly contrasts yours. I have always been fascinated by those differences and all the adventures and new perspectives they offer.”

As for the video, colour it strange, too. For almost five minutes, Wellbaum interacts (to choose a neutral word) with all kinds of fruit.

“The music video for “Strange Astrology” explores an idea I’ve always been fascinated by, which is: where do I end and you begin?” Wellbaum says. “We chose fruit to explore this theme because, in the moments where I find myself caught in a loop of existential dread, fruit has been a surprisingly grounding force. In a world with so much perceived chaos, fruit anchors me in a reality where all is intentional and perfect as is. It offers truly wild colours and has shockingly well-organized insides. Fruit is an epic sensory experience and full of surprises. Sometimes when I think about fruit, the presence of the void falls away and all is exactly as it is meant to be. In many ways, love and intimacy are mirrors of that experience. Also, the world needs more gay anthems about astrological connection and I am happy to provide that.”

The official music video for “Strange Astrology” from the forthcoming new album ‘Parallel Timeline’

Driven by the force of nature, The Black Angels singer’s solo journey takes an hypnotic detour along the wild trails of his indigenous homestead with songs of love, hope, human connection whilst navigating perils of modern society and tentatively facing the darkness. 

The music of Alex Maas has always mesmerised. Now, on his soul-baring solo debut Luca, the Texan and The Black Angel’s singer journey is taking an equally hypnotic detour along the wild trails of his indigenous homestead. Driven by the force of nature, each phase of life is celebrated through songs of love, hope, human connection whilst navigating perils of modern society and tentatively facing the darkness.

It’s a record fuelled by memories of an upbringing in the strange, unique paradise of his father’s plant nursery in Seabrook, Texas by the waterfront of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Native American sounds that would drift through the garden’s hidden speakers, ricocheting off multi-coloured pottery mazes of curiosities from across the world.

http://

Casting shades of deeply personal wide-eyed innocence and the darker realms of paranoia, “Luca” has its sights set on the near and distant future. Subtle psychedelic flourishes and instrumentation come from a cast of expert players in Austin but this is a deeply personal endeavour.

Released December 4th, 2020

No photo description available.

There will be a new Birds of Maya record out June 25th on Drag City Records.
Much about this album, including the name and artwork is in honour of the beauty and wildness of the vacant lots where we used to play shows, garden, or build playgrounds for our kids before they were all dug out to build gigantic condos. It’s harder now to find the Earth around here. It’s not gone, just hiding, waiting to be let loose again.
This record is the first one we ever recorded in an actual studio, Black Dirt Studio.

A long era of dull ringing and nothing else in our ears is over. Once again, winds of warm guitar and humid thunderheads of bass and toms rumble all around. With Valdez, Birds of Maya are back in flight. And like the first song title explicitly states, this latest is a soaring blast of riffers, rife with punk rock abandon, sludge, treble, distortion, neck-throttling rock n roll solos, pummelling drums and bass and half-shouted/half-gargled vocals, all of it half on and half off the mic. For the good times as always, these Birds!.

That’s how they’ve done it: fast and heavy, hard, live and loose, amid accumulating piles of empties, in appropriately informal environments since 2004ish, with their three LPs (on Holy Mountain, Richie and Little Big Chief) ripping us up whenever they drop. With each release, our thirst has increased, but to our horror, we haven’t found any fresh feathers from their tree in the new release bins since 2013. Somewhere in Philadelphia, Jason Killinger, Ben Leaphart and Mike Polizze played on — preferably outside (the shows are always extra-good), but wherever, really.

Recorded in 2014 at Black Dirt Studios in New York. Yeah: Birds of Maya packed up their shit, drove out of North Philly to a recording studio hundreds of miles away and made an album. Kinda nuts. And then didn’t release it until…well, yeah — now! Time is a test that Birds of Maya recordings need to pass before they see the light of day. At the time this was recorded, Birds of Maya were standing on the other side of ten years kicking around town, suddenly far away from the primordial ooze they’d flopped forth from. The streets where all this had happened on were changing, with new money rolling in, but they were the same old Birds, content with their libations and ear-splitting variations on old favourite Stooges chords. The cover art of Valdez is a couple images from those days, glimpses at the old grass roots before they were ripped up by developers to build condos. But nothing ever really goes away, Valdez stands tall amongst the changing landscape.

“BFIOU” is from “Valdez” released on LP & Streaming on June 25th, 2021 by Drag City Records.

From the start, Son Lux has operated as something akin to a sonic test kitchen. The band strives to question deeply held assumptions about how music is made and re-construct it from a molecular level. What began as a solo project for founder Ryan Lott expanded in 2014, thanks to a kinship with Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia too strong to ignore.

Arriving at a time of considerable uncertainty in the world, Son Lux’s multi-album ‘Tomorrows’ is ambitious in scope and intent. Born of an active, intentional approach to shaping sound, the music reminds us of the necessity of questioning assumptions, and of sitting with the tension.

The music encompassed on Tomorrows provides an appropriate parallel for the sustained cacophony of the present moment, advancing a friction that reveals the strange in the familiar and the familiar in the strange. While this carefully crafted inversion acclimatizes the ear to tension, the steadily hardening exterior fractures at unlikely moments, revealing a strikingly visceral, emotional core. The process of creating Tomorrows is iterative in nature, with the lyrical content and music continually adapting and responding to one another and the shifting landscape of the moment.

http://

Released April 16th, 2021

Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey have been in so many great bands over the last 40 years, most notably Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, but also Tender Trap, Marine Research and, since 2014, The Catenary Wires. The names and other band members change over the years but the general vibe does not — indie pop that veers towards, but not too far into, twee territory with heartfelt, bookish but unpretentious lyrics. Amelia and Rob are set to release “Birling Gap”, the third Catenary Wires album, on June 18th via Shelflife and Skep Wax Records.

Previous Catenary Wires albums have been very gently, just Amelia and Rob and some lightly strummed acoustic guitars, but they’re now a five-piece, and Birling Gap looks to be a much more fleshed-out record. We’ve already heard a taste of what’s to come with “Mirrorball,” an unabashedly romantic and danceable tribute to never giving up on love and ’80s discos. They’ve now released a second single, “The Overview Effect,” a tender, dreamy number about getting older and accepting it. “Can’t things stay the same?” Rob and Amelia sing to each other, stars in their eyes, already knowing the answer.

http://

Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, with Fay Hallam, Andy Lewis and Ian Button.

The Catenary Wires, aka indiepop icons Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (Heavenly, Talulah Gosh), release new album ‘Birling Gap’ in June 21st

A co-release with Skep Wax Records

New Orleans’ Joystick have spent the last decade honing their craft and emerging as one of the best modern ska-punk bands around, and their fourth record “I Can’t Take It Anymore” is their most mature, refined record yet. “Everybody started getting married and having kids and kind of like settling down — we definitely became less of a party band,” lead vocalist Duck told us in a recent interview. Duck also got sober four years ago and he’s now working as a volunteer to help other alcoholics and addicts, and those experiences informed the personal, honest tone of his lyrics on this record.

The music sounds more “mature” too, but in Joystick’s case, growing up doesn’t mean slowing down. It’s still an urgent, fun, fast-paced record that toes the line between ska-punk and ska-core and sounds as hungry as Joystick did on their debut. It also has a subtle approach to musical diversity; it’s a straight-up, ’90s-style ska-punk record, but it also weaves in aspects of traditional ’60s ska, shouty ’80s hardcore, and plenty of the in-between.

http://

Joystick
Ska Punk from New Orleans Louisiana

Members:
Paul “duck” Tucker- Vocals
Clay
 Aleman- Bass
Mickey Retzlaff- Guitar
Josh Bourgeois- Trombone
Justin Mcdowell- Tenor Sax
Garrett Corripio- Trumpet
Andrew Heaton- Trombone
Kyle Bouque- Drums
 

released April 16th, 2021

Black Sabbath created “Sabotage” with their backs to the wall, yet it was a masterpiece, fearlessly experimental and adding added yet another dimension to their music. The 1975 Black Sabbath album, “Sabotage”, will be re-issued as vinyl and CD super deluxe edition box sets, in June. The band’s sixth studio album was recorded amidst legal wranglings with their former manager – which is how the title came about.

It’s been a big year for fans of Black Sabbath.  In the first few months of 2021, Rhino has already released a box set of the band’s 1972 album Vol. 4, followed by 2CD expanded editions of the first two Dio-era albums.  Now, the label has announced another super deluxe box set – this time of 1975’s “Sabotage.”  Due on June 11th, it will be available in both 4CD and 4LP/7″ editions.

While the album’s title was inspired by the legal battle raging between Sabbath and its former manager, the album was filled with some of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward’s most harmonious music together.  Sabotage blended hard rockers (“Symptom of the Universe” was even said to have inspired the thrash metal genre) with acoustic material (the instrumental “Don’t Start (Too Late)”) and even pop-oriented material (the hook-laden “Am I Going Insane (Radio)”). Out of this chaos would come one of the greatest and most influential albums in rock history, and the last classic album Sabbath would make with Ozzy. Its title – a bleakly humorous comment on the forces bearing down on the band – was Sabotage.

It was in 1970 that Patrick Meehan was appointed manager of Black Sabbath. The band had already made significant progress by this point, under the guidance of their first manager, Jim Simpson, a club promoter in Sabbath’s native Birmingham. Their first album, Black Sabbath, had reached the UK Top 10; their second, Paranoid, went to No.1. But as their popularity rapidly escalated, there was a feeling within the band that Simpson was a little out of his depth. In Osbourne’s opinion: “overwhelmed”.

Enter Meehan, a former assistant to the self-styled ‘Mr Big’ of rock’n’roll managers, Don Arden. The band were impressed by his global business plan, symbolised by his company’s name, Worldwide Artists, and by his go-getter attitude. “Meehan talked a good talk,” Iommi said. Once installed as Sabbath’s manager, Meehan delivered on his promises. 

“In the early days,” Iommi said, “he really got things going. He was the one who got us to America.” But after four years on a continual cycle of touring and recording, they were running on empty. As Butler says: “We wanted to take a break after Tony had collapsed with exhaustion on the “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” tour. We were in England, having just returned from the tour, when our management called us all and said we had to go back out to do the California Jam. We said no, but we were eventually forced into doing it.”

Moreover, Black Sabbath had grown suspicious of Meehan. Osbourne complained: “Patrick Meehan never gave you a straight answer when you asked him how much dough you were making.” Butler said, more bluntly: “We felt we were being ripped off.” But with Meehan at the helm, Black Sabbath became a genuine international success. The three albums that followed Paranoid – Master Of Reality in 1971, Vol.4 in 1972, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in 1973 – all hit the UK Top 10 and the US Top 20. By 1974 the band had all the trappings of success, the country houses and flash cars.

Shortly after their return from California Jam, the band notified Meehan of their decision to end their contract with Worldwide Artists. But Meehan was not going to give up one of the biggest rock bands in the world without a fight. 

Such was the managerial turmoil surrounding Black Sabbath that it took them almost a year to complete the recording of Sabotage. Geezer Butler sums up the band’s state of mind during this period in four words: “Concerned, tired, drunk, stoned.” Iommi was also reacting, on a deeper level, to the ongoing litigation with Patrick Meehan. “We were in the studio one day and in court or meeting with lawyers the next,” the guitarist said. And his anger and anxiety fed into Sabotage. “The sound was a bit harder than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” Iommi explained. “My guitar sound was harder. That was brought on by all the aggravation we felt over all the business with management and lawyers.”

Mike Butcher had been the engineer on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and he was charged with producing Sabotage. Butcher recalls that the sessions ran to a loose schedule. “I’d arrive at two in the afternoon, but the band wouldn’t start showing up until four. And because Morgan had a bar, that’s where the guys would wait for the others to arrive. So most days, we’d start work at nine and go through till one or two the next morning.” The drinking continued in Morgan’s studio rooms 3 and 4. The band also had a plentiful supply of cocaine and marijuana: “Bags of the stuff,” says Mike Butcher. During the actual recording, however, it was work all the way. “When it came to laying track, my intake of anything mind-altering would diminish somewhat,” says Bill Ward.

The album was recorded at Morgan Studios in Willesden, north-west London, a state-of-the-art facility where Sabbath had made their previous album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The band worked at Morgan for a total of four months, split into three-week sessions. Certainly Iommi’s heavy riffing is the dominant tone on Sabotage, not least on the song chosen as the album’s opening track, “Hole In The Sky”, which begins with the hum of amplifiers set at maximum volume and a scream of “Attack!” The scream was an in-joke, delivered by Mike Butcher

Even heavier was Symptom Of The Universe, Sabotage’s most famous and influential song. Its bludgeoning, staccato riff would provide the template for Metallica and countless other metal bands, but it was more than a one-note head-banger. It ended in a funky coda, created by the band jamming while recording the track and subsequently overdubbed with acoustic guitar.

Other tracks leaned heavily into experimentation such as “Supertzar,” a driving instrumental with a grandiose choral arrangement. There were more left turns throughout the album. Iommi may have set out to make a more straightforward rock record, but Sabbath continued the experimentation they started on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. And, ironically, it was Iommi who created the most bizarre and unorthodox song ever to feature on a Black Sabbath album. More atmospheric even than the song that gave the band its name, Supertzar was a darkly dreamlike piece featuring the English Chamber Choir, and described by Ward as “a demonic chant”. Tubular bells, played by Ward, carried an echo of the 1973 movie chiller The Exorcist.  The only connection to conventional rock music was Iommi’s slow guitar riff, played like a death march. Ozzy had no part to play on Supertzar, but what he heard as he observed the song being recorded was, in his words, “a noise like God conducting the soundtrack to the end of the world”. Iommi said, with characteristic reserve, that “it sounded really different and really great”.

In stark contrast was Am I Going Insane (Radio), essentially a pop song written by Ozzy on a Moog synthesiser, which he played on the finished track. “Oz drove us all nuts with that Moog thing,” Ward recalls, “but the song was great. And in hindsight, it was kind of a precursor for his solo career. His personality was blooming on this song.”

Ozzy’s lyrics for the album’s heavyweight final track, in which he poured scorn on Black Sabbath’s tormentor, Patrick Meehan. ‘You bought and sold me with your lying words,’ Ozzy sang, before threatening a curse on his enemy. The song was named The Writ, a title that was suggested by Mike Butcher after Meehan’s lawyers arrived unannounced at Morgan Studios. For Ozzy, writing and singing the words to this song had a therapeutic effect. “A bit like seeing a shrink,” he said. “All the anger I felt towards Meehan came pouring out.” And yet, for all the vitriol in The Writ there was a note of hope, and defiance, in its closing line: ‘Everything is gonna work out fine.’ And, in the short term at least, those words would ring true. Patrick Meehan would not break Black Sabbath.

Bill Ward believes it was sheer force of will that got Black Sabbath through the making of “Sabotage”. “We’d taken some knocks,” he says, “but we carried on. It was a tough band.”

Rhino’s upcoming Super Deluxe Edition boasts a remastered version of the original album plus a complete live show from Sabbath’s 1975 tour.  The vinyl version only includes a bonus 7-inch single of the single edit of “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” b/w “Hole in the Sky,” replicating a Japanese release.  The new album remaster will also be available via digital/streaming services.

“Sabotage”, co-produced by the band and Mike Butcher in London and Brussels, received a July 1975 release in the U.S. while the U.K. release date wasn’t until September.  It fared well in both countries, placing in the top 30 of the Billboard 200 and the top ten of the U.K. Albums Chart.  It eventually earned Gold and Silver certifications, respectively.  The album inspired a well-received appearance on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and a successful U.S. tour that was only derailed when Ozzy was injured in a motorcycle accident.

That tour was the source of the composite show presented here on two CDs or three LPs.  Of the 16 tracks, 13 are previously unreleased.  The setlist represents the band’s discography to that point with numerous songs from Sabotage including “Hole in the Sky,” “Megalomania,” “Supertzar,” and “Symptom of the Universe.”

The box set features a booklet with liner notes, rare photos, and memorabilia and clippings from the period as well as a replica tour book from the 1975 stop at Madison Square Garden and a replica tour poster.  Sabotage: Super Deluxe Edition is due from Warner Records/Rhino on June 11th. 

See the source image

Black Sabbath,Sabotage: Super Deluxe Edition” (Warner/Rhino, 2021)

The both box sets feature a newly remastered version of the album paired with a complete live show recorded during the 1975 tour. 13 of the 16 live tracks included are previously unreleased. The four-CD box set features the studio album and live concert across three CDs with a fourth disc effectively a CD single. It features the single edit for ‘Am I Going Insane (Radio)’ and ‘Hole In The Sky’.

The vinyl box set features the same content across four vinyl records and those two extra tracks feature on a bonus seven-inch single, with artwork replicating the rare Japanese version of the single. All this music is accompanied by sleeve notes in a 60-page book (CD version – the vinyl is a 40-pager) that tell the story of the album through quotes from band members and the music media along with rare photos and press clippings from the era.

Also included in both packages is a 1975 Madison Square Garden replica concert book and Sabotage 1975 tour poster.

Sabotage is released on 11th June 2021, via BMG.

Flyte are Winchester’s own indie-rock success story. Formed in 2013, the now-trio (Will Taylor, Jon Supran and Nick Hill) have gone from strength to strength with each remarkable release and their sophomore effort corroborates this. At face value, ‘This Is Really Going To Hurt’ is a quintessential breakup album. Ever-present in life and literature, heartbreak is an inevitable theme eventually approached by artists of all areas. While Flyte have previously gained traction through works taking a more vicarious approach, this album is a deeply personal exploration of heartbreak. Vocalist Will Taylor journeyed through the end of an eight-year relationship with all the turmoil you’d expect, but here has managed to carefully document the feelings involved in a delicate and dignified way. His mindful nature and a drive to share his cathartic writing allow this record to exude a matchless sensitivity in its lyricism.

‘Easy Tiger’ is both the opener of the album and a perfect example of such sensitivity. Bearing the album’s title dominantly in its lyrics, this track is the preparatory build to the rest of the album. The soft guitar melodies bring an air of comfort to the foreboding descent into a thoroughly varied and emotional collection of music. ‘Losing You’ swoops in next with a potent, raw form of storytelling. Encapsulating the nostalgia of new romance versus its demise; it’s simple but flawlessly compelling.

‘I’ve Got a Girl’ is a punchy gem which alongside being a fun listen, serves to gently accelerate the pace of the record (written following the departure of former-member Sam Berridge). Launching straight into its dramatic lyricism, no time is wasted in portraying the hurt and subtle distress that runs throughout. This track has an undeniable appeal with its moody composition; dramatic keys and thundery bass giving it an edge akin to early 2000s alt-rock, while slick production cements its modern feel. Flyte crafted the album with the skilled hands of producers Justin Raisen and Andrew Sarlo, and mixing engineer Ali Chant. A mellow, steady, building instrumental meets an initially minimal vocal decorated with Flyte’s classic creative harmony in ‘Under The Skin’. Taylor’s voice builds to hold subtle anguish as we reach the busy, almost chaotic climax of the track. This is met cohesively with thumping guitar, crashing percussion and whirring synths.

We’ve been fortunate enough to feast our ears on half of the tracks from ‘This Is Really Going To Hurt’ as singles already, but the as-yet-unheard tracks bring yet more depth to the album. The first of which is the simply exquisite ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ . Despite its subject matter, the record is never accusatory; just attentively observational and introspective to a refreshing degree. Littered with choral-like harmonies, ‘Trying To Break Your Heart’ feels as though it’s been freshly plucked from a coming-of-age movie where a sense of melancholy is drenched in summery, jolly instrumentation.

As the band told us in an interview back in the summer of 2020, “every song has a very distinct personality” which stands true as the smooth, shoegaze dream, ‘Love Is An Accident’ begins. We’re then launched into the rockier ‘There’s a Woman’. Here we find classic, janky guitar and darker tonality, intermitted with calmer moments that tease at a lingering sense of romance. The end of the song is heavy with brass and synth, and the continued harmonies we’ve come to expect and love from Flyte over the years.

‘Mistress America’ features echoey vocals set among sentimental acoustic guitar in a lively track. It has a definite sense of being hopeful and joyfully romantic, with a relevant mid-American feel. This begins to round ‘This Is Really Going To Hurt’ off quite nicely, though the real treat waiting at the album’s close is ‘Never Get To Heaven’. Sleepy, hazy and comforting, it conclusively signals the end of an arduous period of time experienced by Taylor.

With their second album, a new vulnerability in the band’s work is clear. While a breakup record, delving deeper unveils a tapestry of raw emotion, polished instrumentation and lyrical complexity. It almost feels invasive to listen to Taylor’s plight in this way, especially as we’re used to Flyte’s relatively impersonal previous works. Here, the lyricism is beautifully and brutally self-aware. To tackle personal experiences and adjust to working as a trio were Flyte’s latest challenges, and each member played their part to meet them with grace; creating some gorgeous music on the way.

words from onegreatsong

May be an image of text

No Joy has revisited and reinvented some of her favourite tracks from her 2020 album Motherhood for the new EP Can My Daughter See Me From Heaven? It sees principal songwriter Jasamine White-Gluz mining and exploring fresh avenues, bringing you an orchestral interpretation of choice tracks. Once again pulling sonically from every corner she’s mastered before — including nu metal, trip hop, and shoegaze — the five-song EP shows White-Gluz settling into a strange and confident harmony.

Highlighting the urgency of Motherhood while continuing to find formidable shapes of reinvention, the EP defies expectation and genre, cementing No Joy as something rare: A band without a category.”

Can My Daughter See Me From Heaven?” the new album feat. orchestral reimaginings of your fave songs from Motherhood (and one Deftones cover!) First single “Kidder (from Heaven)” is out now, video directed by 7 year old Sloan. Recorded entirely in remote, these songs feature harp by Nailah Hunter, Cello by Ouri, French Horn/Opera and Backing Vocals by Brandi Sidoryk, drums by Sarah Thawer and tons of guitars by none other than Tara McLeod.

Produced by moi & Tara, Mixed by Jorge Elbrecht and mastered by Heba Kadry.Available on Digital, Blue Glitter Cassette, and Limited ‘Mood Ring Coffin’ Cassette – these are limited to just 100 hand-numbered copies that I’m hand painting my gddamn self!!!This was a challenging, experimental journey that sounds like nothing I’ve ever done before and I’m so proud of it.

Jasamine White-Gluz (vocals, producer) Tara Mcleod (co-producer/guitar) Ouri (cello) ​ Nailah Hunter (harp) Sarah Thawson (drums) Brandi Sidoryk (french horn, opera and backup vocals)

“Kidder – From Heaven” by No Joy off the EP ‘Can My Daughter See Me From Heaven’ out 5/19/2021 on Joyful Noise Recordings worldwide, out on Hand Drawn Dracula in Canada.

Albumism_SteelyDan_Aja_MainImage.jpg

Steely Dan’s records were pristine to the point where you could eat off their glistening surfaces. They were never as sharp or as focused as they are on ‘Aja,’ their 1977 hit that balances cool jazz with timeless pop appeal. Band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have been criticized for their coldness. But on ‘Aja,’ they reveal a warm, beating heart beneath that steely exterior.

One of the many signature qualities of this album is that it is impeccably produced, a fact that has garnered both praise and condemnation. Admittedly, I’ve always found it silly to criticize a band for being too proficient at their job. Becker, Fagen and crew ease you into Aja with “Black Cow,” a song about a man who grows fed up with his lover’s pill addiction and continuous infidelity. You have to appreciate that the beauty of Steely Dan’s music is found in  its sonic flawlessness enveloping sharp and intelligent lyrics.

Ian Dury once said of this album, “Well, Aja’s got a sound that lifts your heart up… and it’s the most consistent up-full, heart-warming…even though, it is a classic L.A. kinda sound. You wouldn’t think it was recorded anywhere else in the world.

The title track is the antithesis of what should be on a rock album. Then again, is this a rock album? The nearly eight-minute opus has been described by Donald Fagen as being about “tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman.”

These people are too fancy, they’re too sophisticated,” William S. Burroughs said of Steely Dan in 1977. “They’re doing too many things at once in a song.” Burroughs, who had no personal connection to the band, had been asked to comment on Aja, Steely Dan’s new record, because co-founder Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had named themselves after “Steely Dan III from Yokohama,” the surreal dildo featured in Burroughs’ most notorious novel Naked Lunch. His comment embodied a common-man criticism made about Steely Dan by their detractors: The unit, who stated their claim in the pop sphere with clean, blues-steeped singles like 1972’s “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Do It Again,” had gradually but consistently ceased to resemble a meat-and-potatoes rock band, instead spiraling off into groovier, jazz-inspired pop experimentalism.

‘Aja’ (1977): “Aja”

The eight-minute title song to Steely Dan’s best-selling album brilliantly combines jazz and rock. But even the fiery interplay between drummer Steve Gadd and saxophonist Wayne Shorter was more the product of studio wizardry than in-studio camaraderie. Gadd recorded his titanic drum fills live — and, he’s said, in one surprising take no less — with the rest of the legendarily picky members of Steely Dan. Shorter was brought in later and taped his answering solo over their already completed parts. At this point, that had become the norm, rather than the exception. Aja ended up taking a year and half to record, with studio expenses piling up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We overdubbed a lot of the overdubs over,” Becker joked with Cameron Crowe in 1977, and he wasn’t really kidding. Still, the extended sessions allowed Fagen and Becker to explore entirely new corners of the their self-taught musical minds. The result is a moment like “I run to you” on “Aja,” where the song seems to come totally unmoored.

The effect heightened as Fagen and Becker systematically fired all of their band’s other members, and replaced them with industry-standard jazz, soul, and blues musicians. They stopped touring; the songs’ narratives and jokes became more acidic and obscure. Rolling Stone’s review of 1976’s sprawling, sinister The Royal Scam summarized the feelings of the band’s skeptics and newfound admirers alike, that they would “eventually produce the Finnegan’s Wake of rock.” On the day Aja came out, Walter Becker told Cameron Crowe that he was empathetic toward the concerns, but also uninterested in compromise: “These days most pop critics, you know, are mainly interested in the amount of energy that is…obvious on the record. People who are mainly Rolling Stones fans and people who like punk rock, stuff like that… a lot of them aren’t interested at all in what we have to do.”

Instead of the Rolling Stones or punk rock, Aja was deliberately intellectualist pop music that appealed easily to music-school types and jazz fans–chops-y rock music that helped “legitimize” the genre. Becker and Fagen’s songs, charted out across six or seven sheets normally, prized and necessitated technical musicianship. They used horns as expressive, exalted instruments in rock songs, not just padding or blunt, skronking deus ex machinas. But the record’s appeal extended well beyond the ranks of any subgenre of snobs. Standard-issue rock listeners, after all, indulged in elaborate, preciously-conceived, and strange things in the 1970s, a decade which yielded four Top 10 albums for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Years later, Aja is still Steely Dan’s commercial triumph. It was their only record to sell over a million copies, spawned three Top 40 singles—”Peg” hit No. 11—and stayed on the charts for well over a year, peaking at No. 3. In 1977, the music industry was at the apex of LP sales and mammoth recording budgets. In the year-and-a-half Fagen and Becker spent making Aja, the Dan would push their studio expenses into the hundreds of thousands, all while not playing live. On its 20th anniversary, Becker would chalk Aja’s success over past Steely Dan ventures up to the right-place-right-time factor: “That was a particular time when people were just selling lots of records.” They assumed, he said, that “‘we’re gonna sell three times as many records as we would have two years before.’”

To just chalk it up to a general market uptick, though, would be to sell the unique, subversive appeal of the re-minted Dan of Aja way short. Today, Aja still stands as the crucial microcosm of Becker and Fagen’s artistry, and as one of the most inventive blockbuster rock albums of its decade.

‘Peg’

“Peg,” which is the most well-known track on the album, is in a class by itself. It’s also the song that took forever to complete. The band went through seven studio guitarists to find the right sound on the guitar solo before settling on Jay Graydon’s version. Detractors will point to this fact as not letting a moment happen organically, but I would argue that it made a good song great. Having Fagen’s lead vocal mix with Michael McDonald singing background made it even better. “Peg” is the middle point of Aja and ensures that the album has already exceeded expectations before you even listen to the latter half. The interesting thing about this song is that Becker did not play bass on it. Those duties were handed to veteran session player Chuck Rainey.

‘Home at Last’

From: ‘Aja’ (1977)Donald Fagen once called this Steely Dan drinking song a “blues for Odysseus.” As such, it’s only appropriate that the hero in ‘Home at Last’ would be served “smooth retsina,” a Greek resinated wine, during his stay in paradise. Contrary to the track’s title, he can’t stay – “it’s just the calm before the storm.” Maybe he can take a bottle to go.

‘Black Cow’

From: ‘Aja’ (1977)Could it be that there’s a drink referenced in a Steely Dan song that doesn’t contain alcohol? Nothing’s for certain, but ‘Black Cow’’s titular beverage could be a simple coke float or a more adult version of the beverage. I guess it depends on what one finds most comforting during a break-up: “It’s over now / drink your big black cow / and get out of here.”

‘Deacon Blues’

This ‘Aja’ classic romances the idea of being a jazz musician toiling in obscurity – something that might have seemed appealing as Becker and Fagen became more famous throughout the ’70s. ‘Deacon Blues’ concocts the appropriate cocktail for this: get a cool name, learn to play an instrument, refuse to compromise, “Drink Scotch whisky all night long and die behind the wheel.” Wow. Sounds great, doesn’t it? (Kids, really, don’t try this at home.)“They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the Crimson Tide / Call me Deacon Blues.” There are song lyrics that make you scream, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” A prime example are the lyrics to “Deacon Blues,” one of those songs that’s easily quotable and just stays with you forever. The name “Deacon” was influenced by Hall of Fame football player Deacon Jones. Fagen and Becker’s ode to underdogs clocks in at 7:36, but feels like a four-minute song that you wished lasted longer. Fagen’s inspiration came from his thought that “if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the ‘Crimson Tide,’ the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” It may the coolest nod to geeks that I know of.

During the making of Aja, the Dan were well-settled into retirement from live performance. Fans had gotten used to the band’s new, faceless new image. Over the months they spent fashioning the album, a suite of 7 songs about lust, wanderlust, delusions, and the destructive effects of American Dream, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker methodically reimagined the sound of their studio-assembled ensemble. It was not a dramatic repositioning. Steely Dan had been mostly made up of session musicians since 1974’s Katy Lied, and their songs had already featured plenty of weird chords and prodigious horn solos. But there was nothing like a big, rollicking rock’n’roll single on Ajano “Kid Charlemagne,” no “My Old School,” and certainly no fucking “Reelin’ in the Years.” Guitars provided auxiliary punctuation and effects-less solos rather than the brunt of the song; a stew of acoustic piano and electric keyboards, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, were at the warm center of the mix. Aja’s sound was a direct offshoot from jazz and fusion, steeped in its harmonic language, as well as that of turn-of-the-century modernist classical music (Debussy and Stravinsky, especially).

The particular musical syntax on Aja was in many ways uniquely Dan’s, however, the misbegotten result of Becker and Fagen’s own self-taught musical education. Their chordal sense was central to the issue: The complex changes left the average rock listeners’ ear out in the cold, pointing toward whole new keys for choruses and away from easy resolution. Moments like “I run to you” on Aja’s title track leave one totally adrift for clues as to where the song will move; elsewhere, there are deceptive instrumental flourishes, like the mystical Rhodes-and-guitar fanfare that introduces “Deacon Blues.” Fagen and Becker voiced chords so unusually that theory-heads refer to a specific “Steely Dan chord” (or “mu major chord”): a substitution for the typical primary (or tonic) chord featuring an added 9th rubbing up against the major 3rd. Harmonies like these pop up everywhere on Aja, imbuing its songs with sophisticated, decidedly un-rock’n’roll atmosphere.

Steely Dan’s <i>Aja</i>: Remembering the Band’s Trailblazing Moment 40 Years Later

But Becker and Fagen also borrowed plenty from contemporary pop music, despite their general dismissiveness of it. Plenty of why Aja was so successful–and spawned actual hit singles–came from its emulation of the backbone of American R&B and soul of the time. They hired players that had defined the sound of records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Quincy Jones, as well as virtuoso jazz soloists (Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, saxophone luminary and Miles/Weather Report alum Wayne Shorter). The most time-consuming sessions would be devoted to the lock-groove-based tunes, the ones that wouldn’t be too out-of-place next to disco on a playlist: “Peg,” the warped blues of “Josie,” the lascivious “I Got the News.” Fagen and Becker’s obsession with precision backbeats would become a more empirically insane compulsion during the more troubled sessions for 1980’s Gaucho, with some interference from a custom-designed drum machine called “Wendel.”

Decades later, Becker admitted just how much of this had to do with disco. “They had all these records that were just whack-whack, so perfect, the beat never fluctuated, and we didn’t see why we couldn’t have that too, except playing this incredibly complicated music, and the drummer would go and play a great fill or something and come exactly back at the perfect beat at the same tempo, you know?” he told GQ UK in 2014. “It seemed like a good idea.”

Much gets made of how obsessively Fagen and Becker would plot parts for musicians, but many of Aja’s best and most famous were defined by their players’ independent innovations. As bass player Chuck Rainey recalled in the Steely Dan biography Reelin’ in the Years, Fagen and Becker had specifically told him not to slap his bass during the sessions for “Peg.” Rainey responded by turning his back to the control room and slapping away. Fagen and Becker liked the sound, despite their prejudices, and Rainey went on to slap again on “Josie.”

Then there was Bernard Purdie, one of soul music’s most inimitable drum stylists, whotold the story of taking control of the direction of the recording of “Home at Last” himself in the Classic Albums episode on Aja. “They already told me that they didn’t want a shuffle. They didn’t want the Motown, they didn’t want the Chicago,” Purdie explained. “But they weren’t sure how and what they wanted, but they did want halftime. And I said ‘Fine, let me do the Purdie Shuffle.’” It was precisely what Fagen and Becker hadn’t asked for, until they heard it. Purdie would go on to use the same beat on one of the Dan’s greatest singles, Gaucho’s “Babylon Sisters.”

Meanwhile, drum prodigy Steve Gadd foiled the duo’s plans for the day by running down the intricate title track of Aja in just one take. For the most muso-focused listener, his epic, virtuosic solo in the instrumental middle of the song is the beating heart of the album, layered over with chunky horn charts from arranger Tom Scott and alien synthesizer atmosphere (an anomaly for a Becker/Fagen recording at the time.)

Like their hero Duke Ellington, Fagen and Becker needed the identity of individual soloists to create their finished canvas, but within quite specific and refined structural limits. The duo was not as good with people as Ellington, but they didn’t have to be. From the safety of the studio booth, they could just say “try it again” as much as they needed, and scrap the solos they didn’t like after the fact. According to Reelin’ in the Years, the band’s career-long producer Gary Katz would break the disappointment to the players by talking to them about baseball, before dropping the news that their solo—which the person had spent hours trying to hammer out—would not make the record. When it came to the prospect planning a live tour behind Aja, they got as far as rehearsals, but ultimately backed down.

“We had 4,000 dollars worth of musicians in the room, guys who wouldn’t go out on the road for Miles Davis, literally, and they were committed to doing this,” Fagen explained. “And we both left the room together and said, ‘What do you say, you wanna can it?’ And we both said ‘Yeah’ without thinking twice.”

Once you get to “Home at Last” and “Josie,” you realize that something truly special happened during the recording of Aja. A rock band named Steely Dan made a jazz album that masqueraded as a rock album, and the results are glorious. A smartly crafted, well-produced album does not equate to selling out or being soft. Their sound may not be for everybody, but it works for me.

Aja, despite its detractors, is one hell of an album that demands not just one play, but multiple spins. Aja makes you think. It compels you to listen again and again, as you continually uncover new elements and flourishes you hadn’t heard before. Great albums make you want to come back for more. And Aja is a great album.

Aja was one of the only records Becker and Fagen ever made that they would speak about with real pride. (Less than a year after Gaucho’s release, they would characterize it as a “sideways” move; Fagen admitted, “It’s possible that we took a few steps backward with this album.”) Today, Aja remains the extreme of their modernistic progress, a place they could not effectively move forward from or visit again, except when running down its songs on reunion tours two decades later.