Walking Papers’ Jeff Angell, Benjamin Anderson, Will Andrews, and Gregor Lothian have brought us a powerful rush of dark rock with new album The Light Below, due for release next Friday, Feb 5th (pre-order it digitally here, or on vinyl/CD here). This mesmerizing third LP – which also features Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo – was produced by Aaron Spiro and has a uniquely cinematic feel. Even so, it still fits right into the wider Angell universe that includes the work of Post Stardom Depression, The Missionary Position, and Staticland too. Walking Papers’ The Light Below is a sit-down-and-listen, edge-of-your-seat kind of record, but it’s equally pleasing when you might be listening more passively; a gripping life soundtrack that makes everyday moments feel like film noir. From Andrews’ strikingly precise drumming to Anderson’s vivid keys to the vibe-setting saxophone by Lothian, it’s a colorful base on which Angell paints his pensive lyrics. The Light Below is like a sonic trip to a place where neon signs and car headlights illuminate leather-jacketed late-nighters.
The album artwork, a gritty black-and-white capture of a hand clutching metal scissors, nods to a recurring line, “I’m the scissors you’re the string / I’m letting go of everything” in “The Value of Zero” – and later, “I’ll choose the path of least resistance / I am the scissors you’re the string” in “Money Isn’t Everything.” Opener “The Value of Zero” introduces a neat rhythmic addition: a mechanical sound that makes you feel like you’re inside a submarine. As Angell explained, “The human body is electrically conductive. So touching the end of a guitar cable produces a circuit, which creates a buzz. Run that through a bunch of effects at a loud volume and voilà! I’ve always liked the idea of noise as an instrument.” Increasing the suspense, Lothian’s warm and distorted sax melts with deep drones of key bass by Anderson. Angell also told us that “‘The Value of Zero’ is about freeing oneself from the dead weight of others’ opinions with the hope of finding a more personal truth.”
If you can sing “What Did You Expect?” without a satisfied snarl on your face, we’ll be shocked. Its catchy melody has a swagger that somehow feels like an ‘I told you so’ in musical form, matching the attitude in Jeff’s delivery. Lines like “You’re still holding on to something / 100% of nothin’” hit like daggers. Angell told P&W that he later realized this song is “a request for acceptance [with] a nobody-is-perfect manifesto.” Tracks three and four – “Divine Intervention” and “Stood Up at the Gates of Heaven” are special for several reasons. They’re both enhanced with ferocious lead guitar by Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots. And of course, they both include brilliant Angell musings – such as “Now I talk to the dead ‘cause the voices in my head / Refuse to tell me what I want to hear” in the former or “Reflection is my only anchor / A question waiting on the answer” in the latter. These two songs have also taken the form of an epic twelve-plus-minute music video that couldn’t be cooler. Walking Papers seem so in tune with their perfectly vintage-eerie-urban-grunge sound that they know just how to achieve the same atmosphere visually: with the circa-1954 neon sign marking Seattle’s La Hacienda Motel, for example.
It’s got tough competition, but “Going Nowhere” may be the most beautiful song on the record – strictly measuring by volume of goosebumps triggered. Walking Papers aficionados: consider first-album standout “I’ll Stick Around” – a somber message with a seemingly-reassuring title. “Going Nowhere” is the opposite – a reassuring message with a seemingly-somber title. He’s not stuck or spinning his wheels; he’s “going nowhere” in the sense that he’s loyally sticking with you. And how do you possibly follow up such a moving masterpiece? The answer is “Creation Reproduction and Death” – a knockout track with strong WP2 vibes that compels you to move your body and nod your head. It’s the sexiest side of rock and roll, but Angell’s lyrics go deeper than simple lust. Among its many highlights are the lines “I’m looking for an excuse – to extend the abuse / I want you in the worse way, baby,” and “I’ll hang my shame on the wire / Should I pull the alarm or pour more gas on the fire?”
Built on a one-of-a-kind beat, “Money Isn’t Everything” showcases intensely focused drumming by Andrews that evokes the inner workings of a delicate machine. Never one to shy away from portraying shady characters, Angell’s words are a different kind of chilling as he depicts the financial greed contributing to current environmental crises. “I’ll spill your blood without a conscience / I’ll send your village up in flames / I’ll build an empire on your ancestor’s ashes / Then I’ll give the streets your names / Who says money isn’t everything?” he sings from that cold perspective. This all sets up the crucial fact that he goes on to spotlight: “If we treat mother nature like a sacrificial lamb / The ocean will rise / The population will double in size.”
“The Other Shoe (Reprise)” – originally unveiled by surprise with first single “What Did You Expect?” – is a sax-fueled instrumental that grabs your attention when you put on Side C. The subsequent stunner, “Where Did I Go Wrong?” hearkens back to “The Butcher” from Walking Papers’ first album, stylistically; its skeletal melody struts along in a similarly unhurried way. Like a Spaghetti Western antihero, Angell trades his motorcycle for a horse and describes a classic bloody shoot-out. Like a companion track for the haunting “Money Isn’t Everything,” the ensuing “Rich Man’s War” is deceptively upbeat as they point out the cruel reality, “It’s a rich man’s war – Poor man’s blood / Things will never change – It’s understood / You can ask for help – It does no good…” This banger includes an indelible embellishment: a bird-like “ah ah” sound that’s actually a sample of fingers sliding on a guitar string.
“My Thoughts Are Not My Own” continues the themes of inner dialogue and faulty decision-making that are peppered throughout The Light Below. “I knew it was wrong but I had to do it anyway / I’ve got venom and imagination / And I’ll let you have it my way.” Closer “California (One More Phone Call)” seems to have physical aches baked into its melancholy flow. Before the song’s meaning even registers, you can feel it in your chest when Angell sings, “Give me just one more phone call / Give me one more kiss / Before you go and leave me alone like this / ‘Cause it’s gonna hurt to see you go.” And even after all that pure-rock sublimity, there’s another treat in store on the vinyl: the slow-burning singles that were released on a 7” in 2019, “Trophy Wives” (mixed by Vance Powell) and “I Belong To You,” pop up as bonus tracks on Side D of The Light Below. That’s it, and there’s no doubt – on the topic of thoroughly awesome records, this immersive and impressive work by Walking Papers will forever be named.
Article: Olivia Isenhart