At last! The STEELY DAN Album-By-Album Thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by ohnothimagen, Sep 8, 2017.

  1. Paul P.

    Paul P. Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA, USA
    Heh - it's interesting. Apparently he's an off and on smoker. I can't find the reference right now - I'm on a bus - but paraphrasing one of his interviews he tells a story about being a non-smoker, then deciding to smoke for about a year.

    He's meeting with Walter for lunch - first time he's seen him in a while. Walter's been on a health kick at this point, apparently - taking care of himself in Hawaii. Donald sheepishly admits to the smoking habit, and puts his smokes on the table.

    Without saying a word. Walter pulls a pack out his pocket, and puts them next to Donald's. It turns out he'd also started smoking again - about the same time as Donald.

    That's how in sync those two were.

  2. zebop

    zebop Well Known Stranger

    "Sterile" is a great term. To me Kamakiriad is a quintessential CD, it's like the media took over the music (if that makes any sense.) On the other hand, my cassette version isn't great shakes either, so I guess it's down to the recording itself. Any reports on how the record version sounds?
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  3. GlamorProfession

    GlamorProfession Forum Resident

    i'll chime in on the DVD-Audio. it sounds very good. as do Nightfly and Morph the Cat. Nightfly is the "thinnest" sounding of the three and it sounds really good.
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  4. HeavensAbove

    HeavensAbove Forum Resident

    Like most folks here, I thought Kamakiriad was a huge disappointment after the brilliance of Nightfly (and the extended wait). Some of the songs felt underdeveloped and the production and performances sounded tinny and bare when compared to its immediate predecessor. That being said, I think it has aged very well and is my 2nd favorite DF solo album when considering the 2 albums that came after it; despite my criticisms, Kama does have a clutch of enjoyable tracks, namely the more melodic, less groove-based "Snowbound," "Tomorrow's Girls," "Florida Room," and "On The Dunes."
  5. audiotom

    audiotom Ground Control to Major Tom

    New Orleans La USA
    I hear two major tracks on Kama
    The rest must be stuff in the trunk

    Not to get ahead of myself but Morph has about 4-5 great songs and 1 upper echelon
    zebop likes this.
  6. zebop

    zebop Well Known Stranger

    Thank You!
  7. fuse999

    fuse999 Forum Resident

    Kamakiriad is my favorite Donald Fagen album, Two Against Nature one of my favorite Steely Dan albums! To each his own.
  8. ippudo

    ippudo Forum Resident

    In defence of "Kamakiriad", I too enjoy it much more now than on release. The first three tracks are probably the weakest, which hasn't helped its reputation. It was the first SD-related release I bought and I still adore the sparse and transparent, machine-tooled production, and even though it's more reminiscent of the late 80's than the early 90's, I find it has a lot more depth and sounds warmer and less plasticky than "The Nightfly".

    With regards to some of the criticisms levelled at the production, the sequenced bass only annoys me on "Springtime", and while I echo the OP's dislike for musicals, I don't see how tracks like "Springtime" and "Tomorrow's Girls" sound any more like showtunes than favourites like "Ruby Baby" or "Maxine".

    As has been mentioned, tunes on "Kamakiriad" take a backseat, the essence is all in the addictive (mostly mid-tempo) (micro-)grooves, while the arrangements are even more meticulous and detailed than on previous efforts. And this is where the album shares quite a few similarities with another one-mood record from around the same era, Scritti Politti's "Provision", which, just like "Kamakiriad", further excels with its multi-layered backing vocals and elaborate horn arrangements - the all-too brief intro to "Florida Room" might just be the album's highpoint for me.

    Due to its more immediate tunes and genre-hopping, "The Nightfly" may be considered the more impressive album, but since I don't care for some of the genres covered ("The Goodbye Look" just sounds fake and tacky to me), it's "Kamakiriad" I keep coming back to more often. Its payoff comes with time.
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2017
  9. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    San Jose, CA, USA
    What he said.
    But I do love me some "Tomorrow's Girls." A virus wearing pumps and pearls always gets me to grin or laugh out loud.
  10. Paul P.

    Paul P. Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA, USA
    Plus the video has Rick Moranis. RICK MORANIS!!!!!

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  11. ohnothimagen

    ohnothimagen I don't suffer fools or trolls gladly... Thread Starter

    Indeed, it was probably the most personal involvement as far as their instrumental contributions and arrangements since the first couple of Steely Dan records- Dan and Walt basically did most of Kamakiriad themselves with the help of various drummers, horn players etc. I believe it's also the first album where Fagen did the horn arrangements himself.
    Yep, so why didn't Becker play bass on every song? It's decisions like using the sequenced bass in favour of a real one that frustrate the bejesus out of me with this album.
    True, but I don't doubt that there were self-written/non collaborative songs on the Steely Dan records as well. We know Fagen wrote stuff like "Bodhisattva" and "Barrytown" with no input from Becker- I wonder if there are any tunes on those records Becker wrote on his own?
    "Concept album" I'll buy, "Rock Opera" not so much. Fagen himself would probably cringe at the idea:laugh:
    Let me guess, those two major tracks would be "Snowbound" and "On The Dunes"?:winkgrin:
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  12. Black Thumb

    Black Thumb Yah Mo B There

    Reno, NV
    I cringed while typing it, believe me. :laugh:

    It's an archaic term, but it technically applies.
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  13. smilin ed

    smilin ed Forum Resident

    Plush CD Jazz-Rock Iliad, surely.
  14. Galactus2

    Galactus2 Forum Resident

    When we look at all the talent around DF on this album, it was not unreasonable to have high expectations for it. That, perhaps, contributes to the overall disappointment many feel. Kama has its great moments, such as the already mentioned 'Snowbound' and 'On The Dunes.' But some of other songs just seem to fall short. 'Tomorrow's Girls' and 'Florida Room,' for example, sound like the kind of top 40 fluff someone like Lionel Ritchie would have put out.

    ....which has its place, but for a pseudo-Steely Dan album, I wanted more punch.
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  15. California Couple

    California Couple local joker

    Newport Beach
    Good, I'm only 85 pages behind.

    I have a feeling that someone actually said that to Donald at some point before he wrote that song.
    Or he said it to someone else.
  16. Malcolm Crowne

    Malcolm Crowne Forum Habitue

    Portland OR
    Shoot. I'm LP only. I know there's no way to get an LP of Kamakiriad for less than a hundred so I'm out of luck. Maybe I'll spring for whatever singles are out there.
  17. Black Thumb

    Black Thumb Yah Mo B There

    Reno, NV
    Yeah. After a decade layoff (which was still almost unheard of in '93), during which time a general synthetic instrument fatigue had developed, it just kind of hit a bum note.

    Had it been released a few years earlier, it would've sounded more refreshing.
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  18. drewslo

    drewslo Forum Resident

    My initial disappointment came from having to wait over 10 years between albums. Expectations could only be high. So Kamakiriad was no Royal Scam but it has plenty of great moments if taken on it's own terms. "Trans-Island Skyway" is a blissful track that sounds like an ode to his past. "Snowbound" has already been pointed out as being something of a classic with the return to the Fagen/Becker songwriting team. "Tomorrow's Girls" is a great single. "On The Dunes" is the true highlight. The drums on the outro are beautiful. They simulate the sound of the waves breaking and receding on the shore. The production was initially disappointing but I accept it now. I like the presence of Fagen and Becker's playing which gives it a certain authenticity. For me, better than Nightfly which I know is not a popular opinion.
  19. Black Thumb

    Black Thumb Yah Mo B There

    Reno, NV
    For some reason, I was thinking I'd bought Kamakiriad in a longbox, but Wiki says longboxes were officially phased out on 4/1/93 ... seven weeks before it was released.
  20. Black Thumb

    Black Thumb Yah Mo B There

    Reno, NV
    Exactly. My guiding principle is to approach a piece of music on it's own terms rather than try to impose my terms upon it, but I have to admit it's been tough to apply that to Kama.

    A much tougher time than I've had with the next album in our batting order ...
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  21. Black Thumb

    Black Thumb Yah Mo B There

    Reno, NV
    That's an excellent example for analogy. Like Kamakiriad, Provision has a lot more going on than surface appearance would indicate.
    ippudo likes this.
  22. WilliamWes

    WilliamWes Forum Resident

    New York
    I've only heard Fagen's stuff after The Nightfly a couple of times and never heard Walter Becker's material. I think you're right that Becker's album is way different than Fagen's even though they came out a year apart and Becker produced Fagen's.
    Rose River Bear likes this.
  23. WilliamWes

    WilliamWes Forum Resident

    New York
    I always thought they played on everything and played a lot of their parts until we did this thread, but I guess it's interesting seeing which parts they chose to play when they performed tracks live. Still great reviews from you Ohno by the way despite you not having heard the album in a while.

    Actually, I'm surprised how much praise Kamikiriad has gotten here and even that it got top ten on the Billboard chart.
  24. WilliamWes

    WilliamWes Forum Resident

    New York

    1. Trans-Island Skyway (C-)
    2. Countermoon (B)
    3. Springtime (D+)
    4. Snowbound (B+)
    5. Tomorrow’s Girls (B+)
    6. Florida Room (C+)
    7. On the Dunes (A-)
    8. Teahouse on the Tracks (B)

    In a futuristic car called the Kamakiriad (‘praying mantis’ in Japanese), Donald Fagen takes a road trip, and notes all the events and characters he drives by. Definitely an interesting concept, one might think some good ol’ rock n’ roll would be in order at least on some of the songs, but at this point, Fagen is content to sit within jazz pop/rock for good as we’ll see in his later albums.

    Trans-Island Skyway (C-)
    A vanilla funk song that slides heavier into jazz as it plays, there’s no edge in something this soft. Without more powerful drumming or effective horn blasts, it just goes from a dull funk rhythm to a cluttered jazz pop song with a vocal delivery that distracts from the lyric that sets up the theme. Without hooks or melody, this is easily the worst opener Fagen’s been involved with. Through the travelogue of the Trans-Island Skyway, Fagen describes his car as having a hydroponic farm in the back and gets turned on by a car accident victim. Wait just a minute /There's a beautiful survivor With dancer's legs and laughing eyes/ C'mon snakehips, it's all over now

    Strap in tight cause it's a long sweet ride. While it’s what a Fagen fan might expect, it gets swallowed by beefy horns. In the end, throwing the song itself to the backseat to focus on the driving rhythm to its detriment.

    Countermoon (B)
    Much much better and thicker funk and a fine chorus hook led by those Fagen female backing vocalists we know and love, this song about watching out for that countermoon that wrecks relationships is an early highlight. Gotham shudders /There's a chill in the air /There's a countermoon /Lovers all beware. With enough sticky notes to stick in the memory, this could have been a decent single. The sax solo isn’t great but it gives the bite that “Trans-Island Highway” needed. The snappy drums, creative horn lines and backing vocalists more driven here, the strengths of the song unveil themselves over a couple of plays. One of the few times, keyboard is not a prominent instrument, with the funk guitar and horns taking over on this.

    Springtime (D+)
    Driving to Laughing Pines resort in springtime in a Shark-de-Ville with funk guitar and funk horns for a trip to Lake Nostalgia. The keyboard’s thrown into the trunk for this one as again, the guitar and horns are the focus, but again, like the opener, this one goes for rhythm too much, leaving behind the song. Without much melody, a hook for the chorus or an interesting instrumental element, again, Fagen fails to capture the magic found on some of The Dan’s funk workouts. This one is too stiff and one can even say sterile.

    Snowbound (B+)
    This is when the album starts to break loose of the horn-drenched mediocre, non-melodic funk that focuses on rhythm for a more nuanced selection of songs that have more sides to them. Slowing the rhythm down for “Snowbound”, Fagen sounds better over keys where he can be heard and the detailed touches of organ and longer, softer horns capture the vocal melody’s strengths. “With out thermasuits sealed up tight, we can beat the freeze” –Fagen’s futuristic elements peek through but so do the romantic ones when he sings the catchy R&B chorus- “snowbound, let’s sleep in today, wake me up, when the wolves are out to play. Heat up these white nights, we’re gonna turn this town into a city of lights”. With a laid back, melodic jazz funk pop groove, Fagen hits the right chord with this one. Written in the 1980’s with Walter Becker, it’s another highlight, and despite the cold scene, its warmer than much of Steely Dan’s last 3 albums.

    Tomorrow’s Girls (B+)
    This one also plays a bit like his 70’s band as it breaks into an open wide chorus with multiple vocalists after funky quieter verses. The horn that goes alongside the chorus ride is terrific and colors the catchy refrain. Girls of the future are taking over and times are changing is the message here. Though the funk is back, the pop element is enough here to keep it more about the song and melody than the rhythm. With the familiar keyboard element back in place, the puzzle seems to fit together better. The tune turns to harder funker after 3 minutes, bringing some grit to clash against the soft chorus. These ‘tomorrow girls’ bring more futuristic elements to the theme which reminds us how much of this album is driving forward into the future whereas The Nightfly was about the past looking into the future.

    Florida Room (C+)
    A midtempo to upbeat song with soft jazz pop horns over a jazz shuffle, and funk guitar & bass with R&B female backing vox, Fagen meanders over to Florida at the end of summer when it starts getting cold. There’s a general meandering feel here that lacks focus despite a decent chorus. It’s not as tight perhaps because the maracas are mixed too high distracting the rhythm. The chorus tries to be catchy like “Tomorrow’s Girls” and “Snowbound”, but can’t pull it off. Again, there’s a lack of bite to the lyrical wit found which makes one think that perhaps it really was Walter Becker that lent the wicked humor and sleazier characters to Steely Dan’s lyrics. While I think the melody is pretty good, the sound can also be qualified as sterile, starting to drift into elevator territory.

    On the Dunes (A-)
    Alone on the beach, Fagen is definitely in “Aja” mode as he tells of another paradise like that song with some fantastic jazz rock. Yet this song is repelled by the paradise. With the most dynamic song of Fagen’s 2-album career so far, it glistens with a shine that the surrounding songs don’t have. Starting with moments that come from The Nightfly, Fagen and piano with light band touches keep a soft nighttime feel to it “on the beach with lovers by their sides it’s like an awful dream” sounds like some Becker was infused here. The song picks up into a heavier beat but sticks with jazz pop with a 50’s look back as we hit the midsection with Fagen singing about his trials and tribulations ‘on the dunes’. After about 4 minutes, the song branches out by spacing out the arrangement to feature the instruments. The piano and drums are the stars as inventive drum fills, a great uplifting piano riff and terrific chemistry bring the album to its early climax. A Wayne Shorter like midnight sax slides behind the exciting drumming just like “Aja” before strings soar across the glittering water by the dunes under the ‘counter’moon.

    Teahouse on the Tracks (B)
    A final funk workout on an album that can be classified as having the most funk of any album other than maybe The Royal Scam. After the long roadtrip, Fagen settles in a nightclub for some live work with his band which makes as much of an impact on him as the roadtrip itself. It feels like a finale as Fagen has found his sanctuary after exploring for 8 tracks. Another song that sounds genuinely enthusiastic and positive, Fagen sings like the whole roadtrip with conclusion will start over again- “On Sunday morning

    You're back at the wheel You're feelng calm and crisp and strong”. Again, the funk is better here than on the opener and “Springtime” as it just hits hard but keeps in the melody and hooks.

    Overall: B
    With the great idea of a roadtrip as an album, Fagen hits upon a futuristic science fiction style set of lyrics that don’t quite fit with the jazz pop but do show some colorful moments, characters and scenes that use meticulous detail but still come through. There does feel like something’s missing whether it be the disconnect between the music and lyrics or perhaps the lack of emotion on a number of the songs. I’m not seeing how these songs changed or influenced the character driving despite some nice moments. With all the futuristic elements, you’d think you’d hear more crazy synths or effects, especially on songs like “Tomorrow’s Girls” or “Snowbound”, but Fagen sticks with funk and jazz pop like he did on most of his other material. He’s not as effective when he concentrates on rhythm and straight funk since it doesn’t hit hard enough, but when he blends more jazz and melody in to the mix, the highlights begin. The choruses are pretty strong at times and the songs feel colorful and Steely Dan-like thanks to Walter Becker’s production, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Dan. No matter, it’s much better than I remember it like others here, I think it’s a grower type of album. It needs time to sink in-a little like Two Against Nature. Once it does sink in, it reveals plenty of rewards.
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  25. ohnothimagen

    ohnothimagen I don't suffer fools or trolls gladly... Thread Starter

    Yeah, well, when I get home from work tomorrow morning I plan on busting out Eleven Tracks Of Whack, which I liked even less than Kamakiriad:laugh: So we'll most likely start the Whack discussion Thursday night.

    Sterile? Hell, "Springtime" sounds so sterile you could operate on it. I so want to like this song but the synth bass and Casio drums kill it for me. Give me the 1993 live performances over the album version any day:righton:
    You sorta get the idea that if not for Kamakiriad that Two Against Nature really would have benefited from including "Snowbound". It's a great song, and performance. Indeed, you can feel the Becker influence in the songwriting here 100%.
    IMO the vocals in the chorus are just too overblown for my tastes, that's the main reason why it sounds like a show tune to me. Cheesy.
    Jazziest sounding song on the album IMO. The comparisons with "Aja" are valid, I think. I like the idea that the drum fills in the coda are meant to reflect the waves breaking on the shore.
    Fagen does the straight funk/rhythm groove thang on Sunken Condos better than on Kamakiriad. The trouble is the synthetic, sterile sound of the drums and bass in particular don't seem to work that well when it comes to conveying, you know, funk and groove...not unlike with Gaucho the record still ends up sounding like a lot of the parts were played by highly musically proficient robots. IMO out of all the Steely Dan/solo records Kamakiriad is the one most flawed in execution.
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