Urgency has been Pearl Jam's calling card since their inception, which is why it was a jolt to hear the band sound so settled on 2013's Lightning Bolt. Maybe it's the times, maybe it's the choice to switch producers -- the group swapped their longtime collaborator Brendan O'Brien for Josh Evans, who co-produced the album with the band -- but Gigaton hits with the strength of a full-force gale. Weather is a galvanizing concern on Gigaton, with Pearl Jam structuring their 11th album around the looming climate change crisis. There's little subtlety in this regard: the title refers to the amount of ice lost at the arctic poles, the album's cover depicts a melting glacier, and the lyrics are lousy with apocalyptic imagery, not all of it derived from the climate. Eddie Vedder repeatedly and explicitly wrangles with Donald J. Trump, his righteous anger spilling outside the confines of "Quick Escape" and "Never Destination" and running through the album as a whole, providing a simmer even at its quietest moments. Despite its unconcealed outrage, Gigaton does have its share of shade and texture even before it settles into a number of meditative moments on its second side. The loud, aggressive cuts don't lumber, they pierce: "Who Ever Said" has a whirlwind propulsion reminiscent of classic Who, "Superblood Wolfmoon" is a cloistered bit of mania, and "Take the Long Way" flirts with power pop thanks to its candied chorus. Against this backdrop, the band's sonic departures hit even harder, with the arty soundscape of "Alright" sounding as bracing as the new wave-disco of "Dance of the Clairvoyants." The aural adventure adds a nice counterpoint to protests and pleas offered up by Pearl Jam, and helps Gigaton feel vivid, alive, and just a shade hopeful.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine