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Thirteenth Step

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  • Since Tool exploded onto the scene in 1992, Maynard James Keenan has been a powerful force in the fieldof challenging and expressive music. To call A Perfect Circle his ’side-project’ would be to commit a grave fallacy though, as A Perfect Circle can only be viewed as a band in the classical sense of the word. Despite this, Maynard and Billy Howerdrel certainly emerged as the creative force behind the unit on their debut, ‘Mer des Noms’ which was a perfectly compact selection of biting and at times beautiful music, which pushed the band into a small genre of their own, with their transecndental melodies and spacious instrumentation. Since Tool’s 2001 masterpiece ‘Lateralus’my expectations for ‘Thirteenth Step’ have been running at fever pitch, and now its finally here it delivers in style. Many people seem to look on A Perfect Circle as a kind of second rate tool,or a mellower alternative to switch to as mood dictates. This is most certainly not so. On ‘Thirteenth Step’ the band moves even farther toward carving a musical niche entirely their own. Indeed, much of the material here is drastically original, and the album holds together as a sprawling statement rather than a disparate collection of songs.At first I was rather taken aback by the fact that thealbum seemed to abandon the ruthless consistency of quality that characterised ‘Mer Des Noms’. the band have progressed to a musical space that is extremely dreamy and elegant, with heaviness used very sparingly, and each instrument contributing in almost equal measure to the whole. Opener ‘The Package’ is over seven minutes long, which I certainly did not expect, and it epitomises the album extremely well, combining ethereal lyrics and delicate guitars with Maynard’s powerful vocals caressing us gently, then exploding into life as the song jumps in a heavy direction. The lead single ‘Weak and Powerless’ is actually one of the weaker full songs here, which is saying something, as its a very accomplished track, with a deceptively catchy vocal hook.My standout tracks are ‘The Noose’, which seems to see Maynard attack organised religion yet again, and ‘The Outsider’ whose lyrics are violent and impulsive, with Maynard intoning ‘disconnect and self distruct one moment at a time…..everyone will have his day to die’. As one of the heaviest songs present here, ‘Pet’ is also a definite highlight, with crunching guitars and somewhat worrying lyrics.At the risk of undermining my authoritarian stance when it comes to music, I’d never heard of Failure before tracking down the original authors of ‘The Nurse who Loved me’, but I must admit the version on’Thirteenth Step’ is superb, and is something of a departure for the band, being a quirky and almost comic number which is jam packed with hooks .I like it a lot, and will investigate failure as a result (which islikely what Maynard and Billy intended).This review has become gargantuan, So I should round up by saying that Josh Freeses’ drums are absolutely killer throughout this record, Billy’s guitars are sweepingly original and tasteful, and the production as a whole is stunning, with incredible textures and vivid soundscapes combining effortlessly. My only gripe with the record is that songs like ‘Crimes’, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Vanishing’ feel underdeveloped, despite being beautiful and dreamy. I do believe they add to the album’s overall impact though.A Perfect Circle are one of the most relevant, original and vital bands on planet earth right now, and this opus only serves to consolidate their postition as forerunners in a movement of intelligent and techical rock music that transcends the demands of the mainstream.Hugely recommended.

    Posted on November 20, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I think the problem here is that some people have taken to writing bad reviews for this album after only listening to the disc once, if that. I am a firm believer that before you write a review you become familiar with the albums nuances first. I’ve had the luxary of hearing this album for the past week at work before it came out yesterday. Like some of you, upon the first listen I didn’t think much of it at all. Of course there were a few tracks that grabbed me like ‘The Noose’, ‘The Outsider’, ‘The Package’ and of course the lyric heavy first single ‘Weak & Powerless’, but the other tracks seemed lacking in a way. However, as the days passed by and the spins increased, I slowly fell in love with the subtle beauty of this album. It became apparent that though this album, as a whole, is not as heavy or direct as ‘Mer De Noms’, it does have far more textures that only reveal themselves after repeated listens. The tracks I originally panned off as filler like ‘Blue’, ‘A Stranger’ and ‘The Nurse Who Loved Me’ (and yes I realize it’s not one of there own tracks, but it doesn’t matter) became so stunning that when I finally heard them on my home stereo they nearly brought me to tears.Maynard and Billy have outdone themselves crafting a masterpeice here but only those who have an open mind and no pre-conceptions heading in will be rewarded.

    Posted on November 20, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I have to admit, I’m a little aprehensive about picking up albums based on radio singles. However, Mer de Noms was definitely a great album overall, not just with a good couple of tracks (Judith, 3 Libras, The Hollow), so I chanced it with Thirteenth Step and “Weak And Powerless,” and I truly feel I pulled in a great return on my investment.Danny Lohner of Nine Inch Nails, recently of Underworld Soundtrack fame, was in to help Billy Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan on the production of the album. So what do you get with an all-star production team and an all-star cast? One damn good album.The Package, track no. 1, sucks you into its eerie sound at its beginning and proceeds to tear you apart at the end with Howerdel’s amazing guitar riffs. From there, the darkness of the Thirteenth Step, which I think is a concept album about recovering from…well, recovery (13th step of the 12 step program), is enough to keep you interested. The addition of perfected vocals, guitars, and percussion are what keeps you GLUED to the sound system.The Thirteenth Step is by far the best rock album of the year thus far. I highly recommend picking it up.

    Posted on November 20, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The album Thirteenth Step is a marvel to behold, and its one of the few albums I can’t seem to take out of my playlist after years of listening. That seems to oversimplify the dilemma in the experience too, because the disc has been pumping into my audio veins for so long that it feels like it’s become a part of my disc changer subconscious, and I still love it. In fact, I’ve nicknamed it “#45″ because that slot has become the place it haunts whenever it and my discman need one another.

    I’ve wanted to review the album quite a few times since I purchased it, actually picking the work up on several occasions and attempting to hammer out something that captured it, but I’ve found myself sitting the album back down in frustration and putting off an attempt at verbalization because its really hard to descriptively sample. And, really, how does one capture the essence of an album that seems to contain a little taste of “soul” in the lyrics? Is calling something “Audio ambience lighting the paths and subsequent pathos that showcase the beauty need and neurosis can birth” really explaining a marvel? Is saying the work is “genre-defying” really covering any ground and getting one closer to “you really should buy this work” without doing the piece a disservice? I’m not sure how to capture the album even now, truth be told, but I will attempt to break down a couple of its achievements to say why it merits high praise for me.

    First and foremost on the list, I have to say that Thirteenth Step is a testament to the power of a human voice. I’ve heard so many people try to sing in my life that its hard to say that any of them are “moving” anymore, but I have to say that Maynard can be breathtaking when it wants to be. In fact, when listening to the harmonics within Maynard’s vocal precision, it becomes apparent that the man has talent. He doesn’t have to hit you like a hammer with his voice to make a point, and he never tries to overpower you when he pours you an emotive soliloquy and asks you to sip it for a while. Most of the time he’s more like a shadow that slowly comes to rest on your shoulders, with you finding yourself slowly immersed in the vibrance and beauty that the voice projects. It’s empowering when I think of how Maynard does what he does, changing his sound depending on the song and becoming an instrument unto himself, and how he can birth atmosphere simply by formulating syllables that most voices emit like waste.

    Next, there’s the issue of content driving the songs themselves and how they manage to impact. I’m not really a fan of oversimplified music, not enjoying what mundane hymns brings to the game lyrically, and have to say that this is another reason I enjoy Thirteenth Step so much. Its one of those works that lets the wording worm its way into one’s emotive inner eye, relating both situational experimentation and crescendos of feelings all in one stroke, and it does so by letting the backdrop cast so many emotions in the length of a album. Some tracks become dark overtures camouflaged in pretty packages that seem to denote what monsters we can become, some are mediums of pain and perhaps love – depending on how you define the artifice of the heart, and others simply writhe with anger or limp across the stage like a broken child’s lullaby. And I like that; the diversity in it AND the fact that it tastes real.

    In you want highlights from the album (and these, by no means, are meant to overshadow the other tracks on the album), I’d go with The Noose, Blue, A Stranger, The Nurse that Loved Me, the heaviest track on the album – Pet, and Gravity. I’d also say that you should relax when listening and give yourself to the sounds, because immersion is the beauty within the process.

    Posted on November 20, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The modern radio era is dominated by bands that fancy themselves latter-day Sex Pistols but sound more like bad Green Day knockoffs. Into this musical climate, A Perfect Circle has injected a potent breath of fresh air with its sophomore effort, Thirteenth Step.The record doesn’t overpower the listener. It has a quietness, a subtlety that makes it nearly impossible to fully appreciate on first listen. But with each subsequent listen, its layers are uncovered, slowly and deliciously. It’s a masterpiece that comes full circle on the promise of the band’s debut, Mer de Noms.Thirteenth Step can be taken as a concept album of sorts, with each of the twelve songs exploring a different aspect of psychology and addiction. Opener “The Package” draws you in with quiet guitars and beats and Maynard James Keenan’s gorgeous vocals. He’s an addict looking for his next fix, and we’re along for the ride as the music and voice go from an urgent whisper to a desperate growl and back again. It sets the stage for the journey to come.The first single, “Weak and Powerless,” is a standout. Like much of the record, it’s clearly influenced by the new wave of the late 80’s and early 90’s — there are points at which Keenan’s voice seems to channel that of the Cure’s Robert Smith — yet strikingly original. It’s disarming, with a haunting quality that carries throughout the record.The musicianship is impressive. From band founder/guitarist Billy Howerdel to drummer Josh Freese to new bassist Jeordie White, there isn’t a weak link. White, in particular, is a revelation. His confident, driving bass lines are just the right counterpart to Freese’s rhythms; who knew that such a fine musician lurked within the former Twiggy Ramirez? The music and vocals both prove capable of holding back when appropriate, making the moments when they explode all the more powerful. The band is tight, skilled and creative.As we’ve come to expect from Keenan in APC or his other project, Tool, the lyrics are cryptic, metaphorical and beautiful. They are consistently powerful, intelligent and thought-provoking as they explore the darker subject matter.Among the quieter, more atmospheric tracks, “The Noose” stands out with its haunting guitars and poignant lyrics. The band showcases its sense of humor on Failure cover “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” with Keenan stepping into character as the sad, delusional patient. The song is stark and surpising. String instruments provide an understated, elegant sound, and Keenan conveys just the right vulnerability and pathos.There are heavier songs, too, and they are some of the best on the record. “The Outsider” is the most powerful, musically and lyrically, with Keenan’s angry vocals lashing out and tearing loose. “Pet” can be taken as a political commentary on post-9/11 America and the war on terror; the music hits just the right notes from heavy to scary to gentle, to coincide with the alternately reassuring, commanding and ironic tone of the lyrics and vocals.Perhaps the record as a whole is the recovery, the thirteenth step. It lingers in your mind and your soul, long after it closes with the oddly uplifting lines, “Heal me/lift me back up to the sun/I choose to live.”

    Posted on November 19, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now