The iconography of cli-fi sets Pearl Jam’s latest effort afire, as our exponential climate crisis fractures the prism between the personal and the political.
Celebrating three decades on our overheating Earth, Pearl Jam has achieved a hard-earned existential self-awareness on Gigaton, out in March. The new release’s cover features conservation photographer Paul Nicklen’s destabilizing work on disappearing sea ice. Meanwhile, the band’s Twitter feed repeatedly deploys Nicklen’s photography documenting giga-melts in Antarctica and Greenland to inform its considerable audience about runaway global warming.
Throw in a tweet from This Is Zero Hour co-founder Jamie Margolin raising fists with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder — after the former recently spoke at length about climate strikes and the Green New Deal at a Seattle rally for Bernie Sanders — and you have one of the most environmentally conscientious efforts of the year.
— Jamie Margolin (@Jamie_Margolin) February 19, 2020
The prefix “giga” means one billion. It applies to the gigabytes of our phone's storage, the gigameter of the sun's diameter, and gigatons.
— Pearl Jam (@PearlJam) February 22, 2020
Our Earth is melting, and scientists are using gigatons to measure the loss of ice from Earth's largest ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
This weight is equivalent to over 2 billion polar bears, and WWF estimates there are only 31,000 left. #Gigaton
— Pearl Jam (@PearlJam) February 8, 2020
Did you know… A gigaton is what scientists use to measure the loss of ice from Earth's largest ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
This weight is equivalent to over 100 million elephants or 6 million blue whales. #Gigaton
📸: Paul Nicklen, SeaLegacy pic.twitter.com/AcvFeFml42
— Pearl Jam (@PearlJam) January 14, 2020
Gigaton‘s first single — “Dance of the Clairvoyants” — arrived as a video bursting with climate crisis iconography, such as teeming honeybees and burning mountainsides, blooming flowers and astronomical imagery. The hypnotic, angular anthem’s verses speak of states of confusion and commotion, while warning listeners to save their predictions and burn their assumptions. Meanwhile, its chorus mourns a past that has become the present, as well as a future that is no more.
The second powerful single — the tense, terse rocker, “Superblood Wolfmoon” — cites a rare lunar eclipse that turns the mood red and sets wolves howling with hunger, as means of expressing a personal yet universal disintegration where everything is questioned yet nothing is known, as an inevitable end nears. With all this compounded crisis data, it becomes nearly impossible to separate Gigaton, so far, from its catastrophically unique moment in human history.
Pearl Jam’s arresting new effort firmly situates the band, led for 30 years by a San Diego surfer and propelled by veterans of the Pacific Northwest punk and rock scene, in the pantheon of cli-fi sonics. Like its peers in Soundgarden and Nirvana, who all hail from geographies closer to the exponentially melting Arctic than most, Pearl Jam’s timeless music has always sprung deeply from the planet that sustains it, and us all.
Let’s hope we’re still listening to its screams.