Corin Tucker, Peter Buck and company deliver a second album as topical as it is tough with Emerald Valley
Artist: Filthy Friends
Album: Emerald Green
Label: Kill Rock Stars
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
After a few years of working together in the studio, a handful of live appearances and a few singles, Filthy Friends finally fully introduced themselves to the general public, releasing the album Invitation in 2017.
Then they were sidelined that same year when Scott McCaughey (bass, guitar, keyboards) suffered a stroke. Happily, he’s since greatly improved, enabling the band to return with a new album, and their first extensive tour; check killrockstars.com for tour dates (side note: Stroke Manor, McCaughey’s excellent album detailing his health woes recorded with another of his bands, Minus 5, was released this past Record Store Day, with a wide release slated for June).
Political themes have always been a part of Filthy Friends’ repertoire (“Despierta,” initially released on the anti-Trump 30 Songs, 30 Days album; “No Forgotten Son,” inspired by Trayvon Martin’s murder), and they’re even more prominent on Emerald Valley. The title track itself, which also opens the album, initially sounds like it might be idyllic, conjuring up visions of lush, blooming grounds. But there’s a taut edginess to the music that suggests otherwise, and indeed the lyrics quickly reveal that this verdant landscape is really a site of exploitation, where the workers destroy the land while receiving little money for their back-breaking efforts. The song’s final lines — “Who wins the bounty/Who is forced to leave” — pose an unsettling question about the high cost we all pay in the end.
You could say that most of Emerald Valley’s songs are about that high cost. The album depicts a country in turmoil, a place that’s sold its soul to the despicable “November Man,” who doesn’t have anyone’s interests at heart except his own. This caustic, black humored song does get in a few digs (in a nice lyrical poke, the song’s protagonist downs White Russians and Moscow Mules), and at least it ends with the hope of a comeuppance. “Angels” is a mournful number about the immigration policies that have resulted in families being torn asunder at the border. Environmental concerns are to the fore in “Pipeline” and “The Elliott” (named after Oregon’s Elliott State Park), both of which bemoan the destruction of the planet’s natural resources.
Then there’s the demoralization of human lives. “One Flew East” looks at the displacement that occurs as the result of gentrification, as your just-enough-to-get-buy job now relegates you to life on the fringes. Corin Tucker’s soulful, somewhat restrained lead vocals give a serious cast to the music. But she, and the rest of the band (which includes McCaughey, Peter Buck and Kurt Bloch on guitar and Linda Pitmon on drums), joyously break free on the fierce and exuberant “Last Chance County,” about the rage of being stuck in a dead end job that leaves you “at the edge of the county where most folks give up.” Dispiriting sentiments to be sure, but it’s the kind of invigorating song that gets the blood pumping (not to mention wondering how long it will take Tucker and the rest of Sleater-Kinney to finish their next album). Emerald Valley could’ve used a few more songs like this.
Emerald Valley sounds a warning; “We are almost on the brink,” Tucker warns in “Only Lovers Are Broken.” It’s a wake up call, but with a gloomy forecast. The closing number, “Hey Lacey,” looks ahead with undeniable trepidation: “The future’s nothing that we know.” Uncertainty has become a way of life, leaving us all unsettled. All we know for sure is, winter’s coming. Feel the chill.