With several standout tunes and cohesive songwriting, Lightning Bolt is the band’s most focused record in more than a decade.

Pearl Jam
Lightning Bolt

The Pearl Jam collective has always fared well in songwriting. Singer/rhythm guitarist Eddie Vedder at his best is a modern-rock poet, faithful leader to one of the more successful bands to come out of the grunge era and keep making music.

It’s been almost five years since Backspacer, and in a special documentary to launch the new album, bassist Jeff Ament explains why: “It’s good to wait until we feel like we do have something to say.” In the interim, Vedder branched out into solo ventures, and it appears that Pearl Jam is better for it: Lightning Bolt is the band’s most focused record in more than a decade.

The inspired double-time rocker “Mind Your Manners” brings a familiar energy, and a few other tunes share that signature mid-tempo Pearl Jam mojo that flannel and combat boot dreams are made of. But what’s really special is that, while PJ has produced quite a few mediocre songs over the last decade, here there are more than a half-dozen tracks that could be breakout hits.

The guitar work shows experimental growth, too. The epic “Infallible” builds not with typical PJ mystique, but with an edgier, more modern feel. Guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard have fun with reverb and vibrato, giving a country/rockabilly vibe to “Let the Records Play.” From stern, soaring solos to shimmering delay, shrieking whammy-bar action, and gentle strumming—these pros cover a lot of ground on an album that jumps around stylistically but keeps a string attached to the heart of the classic PJ identity.

The album’s closer, “Future Days,” has just the right combination of piano, acoustic guitars, and violin to contrast with more sobering material on the record. It’s carried by sentiments of hope, the silver lining that keeps us all striving to see beauty despite ourselves. It cuts like a bolt of lightning. Must-hear tracks: “Mind Your Manners” and “Yellow Moon”

A bone nut being back-filed for proper string placement and correct action height.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to change your acoustic guitar’s tone and playability.

In my early days, all the guitars I played (which all happened to be pre-1950s) used bone nuts and saddles. I took this for granted, and so did my musician friends. With the exception of the ebony nuts on some turn-of-the-century parlors and the occasional use of ivory, the use of bone was a simple fact of our guitar playing lives, and alternative materials were simply uncommon to us.

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While Monolord has no shortage of the dark and heavy, guitarist and vocalist Thomas V Jäger comes at it from a perspective more common to pop songsmiths.

Photo by Chad Kelco

Melodies, hooks, clean tones, and no guitar solos. Are we sure this Elliott Smith fan fronts a doom-metal band? (We’re sure!)

Legend has it the name Monolord refers to a friend of the band with the same moniker who lost hearing in his left ear, and later said it didn’t matter if the band recorded anything in stereo, because he could not hear it anyway. It’s a funny, though slightly tragic, bit of backstory, but that handle is befitting in yet another, perhaps even more profound, way. Doom and stoner metal are arguably the torch-bearing subgenres for hard rock guitar players, and if any band seems to hold the keys to the castle at this moment, it’s Monolord.

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