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.