Skip to main content

100 Albums: "Thirteenth Step" by A Perfect Circle

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: A Perfect Circle
Title: Thirteenth Step
Released: 2003
Genre: alt-metal


During a hiatus from Tool, singer Maynard James Keenan got involved with a side project being orchestrated by his roommate, guitar-tech Billy Howerdel. Howerdel's instrumental demo tape was richly textured (what would you expect from an album composed by a guitar tech) but still missing something, so Keenan and some other friends--including drummers Josh Freese and Tim Alexander, bassist Paz Lenchantin, and guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen--to put together an album. The result was 2000's Mer De Noms, a radio-friendlier version of the kind of art-metal Keenan was otherwise associated with. It spawned a few successful singles, but when Tool released their masterpiece Lateralus in 2001, we assumed that APC had been a one-off. But we were wrong. In 2003, APC put out a follow-up that felt less like a side-project and more like a normal album written by a normal band in the studio. It was mostly the same line-up as the first, subbing in Jeordie Osbourne White (then better known as Twiggy Ramirez) for Lenchantin.

The album is themed around addiction and recovery in both literal and metaphorical senses. Opener The Package is quite literally about scoring something you want, although whether it's drugs or sex is left ambiguous. The Outsider takes the perspective of someone trying to understand, and failing quite badly, why someone they care about is trying to "disconnect and self-destruct one bullet at a time." The lead single Weak And Powerless (embedded above) has the feel of a love song but is being sung not just about but to drugs, with references to "China White" and "chasing the dragon" right there in the lyrics. The Noose has some of my favorite lyrics penned by Keenan:

Not to pull your halo down around your neck and tug you off your cloud
But I'm more than just a little curious how you're planning to go about
Making your amends to the dead

The album includes an off-beat cover of Failure's The Nurse Who Loved Me that is downright eerie and a gorgeous closer in the form of Gravity. Again, this is an album largely composed and produced by a guitar tech, so the guitars sound amazing. Freese is an incredible drummer who is allowed to cut loose from the typical metal-drumming mold--most notably on The Noose with its stagger-stop verses. A few of the songs are a little math-rocky, and you sometimes wonder if the man is in fact a machine sent from the future to lay down complex percussion patterns. And while the title of the album is a clear reference to the twelve steps of recovery, it never explicitly states what the thirteenth step would be. The only clue we get is in the final lyrics of the album: "I choose to live. I choose to live."

Further Listening: I waffled between including Thirteenth Step or Mer De Noms on this list. MdN has some of APC's best songs in Judith, Orestes, and Three Libras, but it's a little weaker in the back half. Still a considerably good album, though. They also put out an album of mostly covers called eMOTIVe that includes a spell-binding a cappella rendition of Joni Mitchell's Fiddle And Drum and Passive, which was a reworked version of a Tapeworm song. For those not familiar, Tapeworm is a now-defunct supergroup that included Keenan and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and was active for the better part of a decade. It's probably the most famous band to never actually release any music.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

100 Albums

Hello all!

In an attempt to keep the old blog from atrophying, I'm going to try out a project a friend of mine did a few years ago and spend the year writing about some of my favorite albums. So over the next 50 weeks, you can expect a couple entries a week until we get to 100. Or until I run out of steam and give up. Whichever comes first.

The only rule I'm giving myself here is to limit things to one album per artist. If that would preclude other favorite albums from making the list, I'll note it, but I don't want the list to be completely overrun by Radiohead and the Beatles. I'm going to start at the top of the list (that is, with my #1 favorite), but the ordering is not super rigorous--especially beyond the first twenty or so.

I'll put a master list on a page that's easily accessible from the front and I'll probably throw in some supplemental stuff, like albums I loved as a child but can't really listen to anymore for various reasons or albums …

"Writing Lots!" by Dawn Vogel

Hi, I'm Dawn, and I'm doing guest post here on Kurt's blog. I write fantasy, steampunk, YA, and pretty much anything else that looks shiny for a moment. You can learn more about me here! Today, I'm talking about how I write as much as I do.

I've been writing since I knew how to do so, but I've been writing with an eye toward publication for about eleven years. As I've gotten more comfortable with the craft of writing, my productivity has increased dramatically. In the first six years I was writing seriously, I wrote fewer than twenty short stories, all told. Over the next three years, I increased my output and wrote about a dozen stories a year (with an occasional poem mixed in). Last year, I wrote 38 short stories/flash and 6 poems. This year, I've already surpassed that, and it's only September.

In analyzing how I've increased my output so dramatically, I've found three main keys to my prolific writing: 1) planning, 2) stolen moments, and 3)…

On Getting Laser Eyes

Last week I got Lasik. I was looking forward to not having to deal with glasses getting smudged by my kids or slipping off my face. I figured that not needing them would be pretty convenient. However, the words I heard over and over from other people who'd already done it were: "life-changing." That seemed to be overstating a bit. Convenient, yes, but life-changing? I didn't get it.

I get it now.

I've had some kind of vision correction, either glasses or contacts, for the last thirty-odd years, which is nearly as far back as I can remember. And what I hadn't realized was the extent to which this had become part of my identity. It's not that I thought glasses were cool because I wore them--although I did and they are. It's that the ability to see was, for me, artificial and temporary. And my vision was pretty bad, so my natural state was one of... not so much "blindness" as "isolation." There was a layer of vagueness that sat betwee…