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Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy CD (album) cover

COUNTDOWN TO ECSTASY

Steely Dan

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.02 | 215 ratings

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Kempokid
4 stars Considering that the main reference points I had for the progression of Steely Dan were Can't Buy A Thrill and Aja, this album ended up surprising me quite a bit in the direction it took, rather than becoming even smoother and more elegantly composed, it went in the opposite direction and led to an album with a bit of a bite to it. While Countdown To Ecstasy still largely follows the same sort of subdued, comfy sounding approach, the use of distorted electric guitar comes into play more prominently, making for many moments that are comparatively heavy to SD's other material, all while still sounding remarkably meticulous in its composition. While doing this to set the album apart from their debut, CTE also represents some maturation of the band's style, with each song still being very immediate, catchy and all around fun despite the cynicism that bleeds through, but far more detailed, a lot more going on in each song, making it more interesting to closely listen to for reasons other than the amazingly clean sound that is a consistent aspect of the band's material as a whole.

This difference in sound is made immediately apparent from the opening track, Bodhisattva, taking on a distinctly bluesy, rock n roll aesthetic, but having a lot of underlying complexity to it, ranging from the multiple solos throughout that are backed by an extremely elegant keyboard line, to the way that it all sounds very stripped back without sounding hollow. Very cool how they managed to make a song that's simultaneously so playful and danceable, yet also feels like the perfect track to kick back to. That said, when talking about heavier moments on the album, I'd be remiss to avoid talking about Show Biz Kids, which ends up being a bit of a strange sounding moment, with the repetitive backing vocals setting a steady rhythm that's both hypnotic and mildly uncanny simultaneously. Adding to this is the way the vocal melodies have a couple of small places where they jump around a bit and don't feel like they properly stick to a beat, contrasted with some other parts that are very repetitive which is something that's made a bit more unusual sounding due to how "perfect" Steely Dan always made their music sound, even during the bad songs. Closing it off is the distorted guitar solo that makes it the rare, genuinely intense SD moment that brings the song to an extremely climactic close.

On the other side of things, moving away from the heavier sound of some of this album, there's the fact that everything here sounds so much more well put together, especially in terms of the jazzier moments on the album actually sounding somewhat jazzy rather than regular pop rock song with pretty saxophone and organs. This is especially true to Gold Teeth, which has very lush instrumentation that becomes more detailed and complex as it goes on, with the last couple of minutes especially featuring some excellent drumming balanced with a couple of parts that almost end up bordering on something you'd hear on an easy to listen to jazz fusion album. The other area this album excels at is how it consistently knows how to end a song, with the last minute or 2 consistently being by far the greatest part of the majority of material here, and are the reason why some of the best songs on the album are as good as they are. The Boston Rag is the clearest example of this, being a good song, but becoming something truly special once the piano kicks in, providing an amazing backing groove to the finest guitar solo on the album.

While there's a lot more to ramble about on the album, such as how good King of the World is, but at this point it really would be just that, rambling about parts of the album that I love. At the end of the day, this is definitely a marked improvement and sign of maturation from Can't Buy A Thrill to the point where even the songs that could qualify as filler, such as Razor Boy and Pearl of the Quarter still end up being really lovely to listen to with clearly a lot of attention given even to these lesser parts. The fact that I feel like this is yet another album with a very distinct identity also lends credence to the quality of this band even if on the surface they could seem like generic, overly commercial sounding pop rock to some. Definitely worth checking out yet again for those into this sort of vaguely jazzy, polished music, because yet again, just like with Can't Buy a Thrill, this music seems meticulously made with that sort of listening experience in mind.

Best tracks: Bodhisattva, The Boston Rag, My Gold Teeth, Show Biz Kids, King of the World

Weakest tracks: Razor Boy, Pearl of the Quarter

Kempokid | 4/5 |

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