ALBUM REVIEW Ten Songs From the Time Capsule
A Songbook of Life In and Out of Montana
Produced by Brett Eliason
Monkey Wrench Records
September 16, 2008
As Eddie Vedder has pointed out at many Pearl Jam shows, “we’ve all been benefiting from the long term friendship between Jeff Ament and [Pearl Jam guitarist] Stone Gossard.” It’s True that it was the songwriting duo that sent Eddie Vedder a demo tape almost two decades ago, which contained nascent versions of future Pearl Jam hits like “Evenflow” and “Alive.”
Since the birth of Pearl Jam, Jeff Ament has maintained his status as one of rock’s most innovative and energetic bass players. In Pearl Jam alone he has numerous songwriting credits, and has tried his hand at writing lyrics. Outside of his main act, Ament has been most involved in a group called Three Fish, an eastern-influenced trio that composed both mantra-like anthems and raw rock songs.
Despite his numerous years speaking the Pearl Jam vocabulary, Ament reveals his own personal diary on his debut solo release Tone with little help from outside musicians. Released just last month, Tone comes in a digipak case similar to that of the last couple Pearl Jam releases. A collage on the front, Ament’s own handmade effort, is a mixed media depiction of his native Montana, which incidentally is where he composed the majority of the tracks.
The image focuses on an Icarus character flying free over a forest (and later plunging to his death with burning wings on the inside). The liner notes serve as a reduced diary of the last twelve years in Ament’s life; this dense booklet contains rough versions of typewritten lyrics supplemented with handwritten comments, notes and drawings, some indicating the date and location of the song’s birth.
Right from the garage-punk opener “Just Like That,” it’s clear that Ament is trying to break a lot of new ground. One thing to remember is Ament took on all the performance credits for this record, excluding drums and a guest vocal contribution from King’s X frontman Doug Pinnick. Ament screams and tests the bottom of his range on the opener, switching attitudes on the next tune by singing confidently and occasionally hitting his falsetto.
On this particular track, “Give Me A Reason,” Ament writes a dual letter to his high school PE teacher and President George W. Bush, demanding “Can I live with what you choose? / Can I love my king?” By the end of the song, Ament comes to his senses and addresses the authoritarians one final time: “I don’t trust you!”
Ament’s unconventional instrumentation and harmonic choices on songs like “Relapse” and “Life of a Salesman” prove that he’s looking for something deeper on this album. The variety of songs is almost unnatural for a debut solo album. However, on closer inspection the genre-spanning makes perfect sense: “Hi-Line” and “Say Goodbye” could have easily slipped onto a Three Fish album.
A meager 3,000 copies of Tone were pressed and distributed through the Pearl Jam’s fan club and a few indie stores across the country. If you can’t find your copy, Ament decided to put it up for digital download at pearljam.com.
While the physical copy is a beautiful work of art itself, giving context to the songs themselves, the 5 dollar download is worth every penny. This is not a Pearl Jam album, nor is it filler until the next one (like most solo albums): this is an artist, skateboarder, activist, and musician documenting the past twelve years of life as best as he can in 33 thought-provoking minutes.