Walking Papers – Walking Papers (2012)

Here’s one of the most impressive bands I’ve heard in a while, even though I can’t shake a slight feeling of deja-vu when I hear them. It might just have to do with the fact that Walking Papers is basically a supergroup, formed by members of The Screaming Trees, The Missionary Position, Guns’n’Roses, with contributions from Mike McCready (the guitarist from Pearl Jam). The blending of styles and backgrounds is so seamless, pleasant and so familiar, I suppose it’s no surprise it made me feel like “good old rock’n’roll” found a new avatar in these guys.

Walking Papers

I was a big fan of Guns’n’Roses when I was a kid, they were my entry into “rock music” (which meant anything from glam to grunge to metal for the ten-year-old me), and Slash’s subsequent projects produced some of my favorite tracks and albums ever, so I was delighted to learn that former Guns bass player, Duff McKagan joined this band. There seems to be a bit of a trend going around with these old icons joining new outfits – Black Country Communion, Them Crooked Vultures and now Walking Papers are all great examples. Out of the above-mentioned bands though, I believe Walking Papers take the cake – there’s a wonderful cohesion in the band, a well-tempered maturity, and the groove just breaks out at the seams of every song.

There really isn’t very much critiquing I wanna do for Walking Papers – this kind of music is really supposed to be visceral, absorbed through the muscles as well as the ears, and there really isn’t very much words can to do make that process happen for someone who isn’t feeling it. There’s gritty blues, fat keyboards, meaty rhythms, fierce and unsophisticated guitars and one hell of a voice to bring it all together. There’s a hefty bit of political commentary in some of the lyrics, but not so much that it becomes annoying. Here’s a list of things that aren’t new about Walking Papers: themes, song structure, sound, lyrics, group dynamic. You know what? It doesn’t matter – the band is tremendous and the songs will get stuck in your head for days. You’ll want to drive to this music, run, train at the gym, you’ll want to start a band of your own and make it sound just like this, because there is absolutely nothing more that can be demanded from rock’n’roll.

They don’t have videos, and most of the performances I found on YouTube are live, so I’ll limit the selection to one long video from KEXP, because it’s a very good live show, and the sound quality is perfect. Enjoy!


Mad Season – Above (1995)

Rock history has its hefty share of sad stories about great musicians struggling with addiction and losing the struggle. Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, the list goes on an on, a litany of misery and pain which people often have trouble relating to, considering the fact that the people going through these ides and not making it through do enjoy huge popularity, fame, fortune and so on, and still end up burning themselves away like that. Mad Season is a band which seems to me inextricably linked to this struggle for balance, and the way it’s sometimes simply unattainable.

Source: vkontakte.dj

Mad Season was a sort-of grunge supergroup formed in the mid-nineties, out of members of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and The Screaming Trees – almost all of them musicians who had struggled with drug addiction and had went through rehab. The band was a form of celebrating sobriety, and a form of maintaining it, via constant reciprocal support. The only one in the band who wasn’t sober was Layne Staley, the singer from Alice in Chains, who got drafted into its ranks in an attempt to get him off drugs. In this sense, Mad Season was the biggest, most remarkable intervention I’ve ever heard of. I won’t dwell on the fact that it didn’t really work, I’d like to think that’s nothing more than a sad afterthought to the wonderful spark this band kindled. Mad Season isn’t a grunge staple, they aren’t a band which would get recommended a lot, not a high-profile, triple A affair. What they are, is honest, balanced and moving. Their music is a very satisfying blend of grunge’s more abrasive side with a sort-of acoustic sensibility, a slow, deliberate tempo maintained throughout the record. It’s also influenced by a wider range of genres than grunge as a whole admitted to, which keeps the album fresh, satisfyingly eclectic and meaty.

Truth be told, you won’t hear anything truly surprising on Above. The slow tracks remind me of Alice in Chains’ acoustic releases, the harsher parts sound a lot like Pearl Jam and there’s even a definite nod towards Nirvana’s style (particularly heavy drumming, remarkably simple and memorable guitar riffs) on I Don’t Know Anything. However, this album seems to me like a true x-ray of a whole generation’s musical mode of though, a wonderful panorama of grunge in all its iterations, lifted well above mediocrity by Layne Saley’s unique voice, shifting from whisper to rending scream instantly and with impeccable timing. It’s what I’d call a “cozy” album – a low expectations-high results sort of thing (the whole material was put together in about three weeks, it’s about as close as grunge has come to a jam band), not as seminal as Nirvana’s Nevermind, not as ferocious as Alice in Chains’ Dirt and not as popular as Pearl Jam’s Ten, but rather smack in the middle, balanced, self-sufficient through self-awareness.

Above is the only album Mad Season ever released – the band went on what was basically a semi-permanent hiatus after that, due to the members’ conflicting schedules. Eventually, the whole thing fell apart with the death of the bassist, followed three years later by Layne Staley’s own demise at the hands of substance abuse. This year marks a decade since he passed away, and I can’t really explain why I’ve been dwelling so much on his work as of late, I guess it’s just one of those synchronicity oddities. Mad Season seems to me like a wonderful way of remembering him – a relaxed, simply creative band who didn’t waste any time worrying about labels, fluff and pomp, and was trying its best to drag him away from his demons. There’s no happy end, bu there’s a shimmering, vibrant middle to the story, and Mad Season is the soundtrack.

I hope you enjoy this music, even though I’ve set a rather depressing tone, for which I apologize. I promise I’ll try to talk about some sunnier music next time. See you soon!