Dark Matter

Monkeywrench / Republic
rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Scared of Fear
02. React, Respond
03. Wreckage
04. Dark Matter
05. Won't Tell
06. Upper Hand
07. Waiting for Stevie
08. Running
09. Something Special
10. Got to Give
11. Setting Sun

PEARL JAM need no introduction. The Eddie Vedder-fronted grunge rock band is a legendary musical outfit that takes on even more importance today, since we've lost so many blockbuster grunge frontman over the years: from Layne Staley to Chris Cornell to Kurt Cobain to Mark Lanegan. Vedder is one of the last standing from this pioneering crew, alongside vocalists and bands that didn't quite hit that mainstream level of success, such as Mark Arm of MUDHONEY and Tad Doyle of TAD.

Given that context, it's exhilarating that PEARL JAM are still making records decades after their 1991 seminal debut, "Ten". Today, they're on their 12th studio album, "Dark Matter", and don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

PEARL JAM are instantly recognizable, and that's the case here. The album sets off with "Scared of Fear", which features Vedder's distinct, gruffy vocals alongside choppy guitars and upbeat rhythms. Next up, "React, Respond" is an early favorite, bringing dark, groovy beats and swirling atmospheres. Here, Vedder's voice gets lost in a sea of beautifully chaotic rock 'n' roll. The album's title track follows, which was also the first song released off the new album. It's an apt choice for a first single, as it has a strongly commercial sound with a catchy, singalong chorus and party-like atmosphere.

Those looking for a stellar ballad will find it in "Upper Hand", a melancholy, warm-sounding anthem with Vedder singing longingly with apologies. "Running" is another standout, especially if you like the livelier side of PEARL JAM. This song features a punk style with upbeat chants in the chorus and a choppy, quick delivery. "Something Special", production-wise, is the clearest-sounding song on the album, giving lots of breathing room for Vedder's slippery vocals to shine through over a twangy instrumental. The record wraps up with another ballad, "Setting Sun", which recalls PEARL JAM classics such as "Yellow Ledbetter" and "Black".

PEARL JAM have nothing to prove at this point, but they're still not a band to just release music without putting the time and effort into it. "Dark Matter" is an engaging listen from front to back, and what's comforting to the listener is that the album sounds 100% like PEARL JAM. There's not much experimentation here, but when you're one of a handful of bands that really pioneered an entire musical genre, you don't need to experiment. PEARL JAM are masters at their brand of driving grunge sound and impressionistic lyrics, and "Dark Matter" is simply the next step.

Author: Anne Erickson
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