You know him as the rhythm guitarist for Pearl Jam, and the mastermind behind some of the prettiest, most melodic, and oddest tunes in that band’s catalogue. Stone Gossard has been an integral cog in the Pearl Jam machine since the group’s inception, but with that machine slowing down in recent years, many of its members have sought out other means of making music. For Gossard, this has been first in the form of his extraordinary other band Brad, and now, by focusing on a solo venture. Back in 2001, Gossard released his first foray into solo territory in the enigmatic Bayleaf, which flirted expertly between folk and garage rock influences.
Times have changed considerably since Bayleaf though, and in preparation of gearing up for his second solo release Moonlander (out officially today), Gossard has offered plenty of immersive options. First of all, since mid-April, songs have been streaming individually on a weekly basis to give listeners a chance to sample the album track by track. The creative and almost childish art style by Gossard himself that is represented in the album’s booklet pages has been sold as art pieces. More so, each character displayed in that artwork was made into limited edition plushies. All said, it’s a unique experience for an album, but what about the music, you may be asking? Well, that doesn’t disappoint either.
Of all the artists of Pearl Jam to venture from that central unit, the one who probably made the most interesting and least-Pearl Jam-ish music is Gossard. His range of musical influences and inspirations are all well felt on this 11 track journey. The carefree rock of opener “I Need Something Different” contains the same kind of simplistic riffage of the Gossard penned and sung “Mankind” from 1996’s No Code by Pearl Jam, or even “Pigeon” from Bayleaf. Title track “Moonlander” is a fine showcasing of Gossard’s other musical elements, with a catchy guitar twang, light piano strain, percussive twinkling, and a bombastic feel. The chorus emerges into a soulful croon with cooing female vocals.
“Both Live”, with its country flavor, was quoted by Gossard as being about utilizing “mediation on a conflict” in order to garner peace and understanding. Thus, it is not about avoiding conflict, but rather about preempting the viciousness of one so that neither side has to lose. The piano strains make it quite a catchy tune. For the true Gossard fans, they know that “Your Flames” is a well refined and crafted song. Unlike “Both Live”, lyrically this track is violent, which belies the bluesy and sparse vibe that is established by the piano and whispery soft vocals.
Following that is “Battle Cry”, which begins with a spacey and dreamy atmosphere that transforms into a tribal-esque number with pulsing percussion. When the guitar kicks in, yet a third layer of this song envelops you like a blanket. Gossard found a strange inspiration in a Hitler documentary that claimed that he used drugs. That was the basis for “King of the Junkies”, a fictional tale of Hitler’s last weeks as an addict, but of course it could be about anyone. Musically, it’s got plenty of emotion with bluesy electric guitar, jangling acoustics, and a jumpy, stuttering pace like a drug withdrawal.
“Remain” is a slice of pure Gossard, with introspective glimpses into friendship set against an emotive musical backdrop of delicate acoustic guitars. Next, “I Don’t Wanna Go to Bed” is as lyrically petulant as the song title suggests, and musically has as much of a temper with deep brass, tickling piano, and start-and-stop guitars. It’s in direct opposition to the last track with its attitude. “Bombs Away” reverts back to the calm and direct quality that is embodied by the acoustic jangling. This tune is, according to Gossard, a sort of roundabout means of talking about secrets.
Returning to a more upbeat note is the brief “Witch Doctor”, in which Gossard compares his successes and lifestyle to that of a, well, a witch doctor. This foot-tapper has a likeable beat, the return of the female backing vocals, and a memorable chorus. Album closer “Beyond Measure” delves into gospel, and beautifully at that, while also blending Gossard’s own brand of punk. The result is one of a kind and brilliant.
More unforgettable and varied than Bayleaf, Stone Gossard proves that his time away from the Pearl Jam clan has been laden with amazing tunes of his own design and sound. If you love Gossard’s quirky nature, then you will admire the rapid twists and turns of Moonlander, in which no two tracks are alike.