Over the last 20 years, a Pearl Jam studio album has come to signal more of something else—more tour dates, more bootlegs, more live films and live albums, more reason for them to come together onstage, that place that’s come to define them most this millennium. But Gigaton—the Seattle rock outfit’s first LP since 2013’s Lightning Bolt, and a clear response to our current political moment—feels different: Self-recorded and self-produced in tandem with longtime band associate Josh Evans, their 11th full-length merges the sheer power and unpredictability of their live experience with an experimental streak they haven’t embraced so fully since the late ’90s.
For every midtempo guitar workout (“Quick Escape” is especially heavy), there’s a sliver of Talking Heads-like post-punk (“Dance of the Clairvoyants,” in which bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard swap instruments). Where there’s a weathered acoustic ballad (“Comes Then Goes” finds Eddie Vedder at his Who-iest), there’s also a psychedelic lullaby (“Buckle Up,” whose lyrics and kazoo-like backup vocals come via Gossard). It’s an album whose anthemic moments (see: the six-minute epic “Seven O’Clock,” whose cloud-parting coda bears echoes of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World”) are matched—if not enriched—by its subtleties, namely a welcome attention to texture and arrangement. And with every band member represented in various phases of the songwriting process, it’s arguably their most collaborative studio effort to date, as clear a document of the chemistry they’ve developed over three decades as anything they’ve recorded live. “In the end, when we listened to it, it's like we really achieved something,” Gossard tells Apple Music. “It’s really us.”