Political-rock goes to eleven
Reigniting the passion of their debut, Invitation, Filthy Friends delivers their sophomore effort, Emerald Valley—one of the most directly political albums in recent memory. The core cast of characters returns mostly intact, only modified by Linda Pitmon replacing Bill Rieflin on drums. A stronger familiarity among members helps to refine and disseminate the band’s sharp criticism of contemporary life. Propelled largely by the strength of Corin Tucker’s powerful voice and a nuanced balance of guitars, this group of songs attacks various societal ills with an uncompromising passion that demands attention.
From the opening verse of “Emerald Valley,” listeners are forced to take a closer look at the deceptive utopia of the Pacific Northwest. The lyrics may start gently enough, but the real soul of the track lies in the brooding, almost menacing guitar riff that leads into a tale of modern misery. Tucker provides her rich vocals to the voice of the observer, lamenting “back-breaking work for little pay.” Shifting targets slightly, “Pipeline” takes on the destruction humanity continues to inflict upon the environment. Throaty and pleasantly-distorted guitar chords slide into a satisfying chorus, reminiscent of Peter Buck’s days with R.E.M.
Instrumental passages are brief but are definite highlights when they do occur. Emerald Valley focuses much of its energy on the message over the music. That does not imply that the music isn’t good—in fact it is quite good—but its primary purpose is to create a sonic space to compliment Tucker’s voice, which in turn furthers the delivery of the lyrics. All the sounds are carefully chosen and tend to echo the mood of the individual songs.
The band’s aim is true and the songs squarely hit their intended targets: “November Man” takes on the man in the Oval Office, “Angels” fights for the separated families, “The Elliot” tackles deforestation and “One Flew East” is a commentary on the growing number of people that find, “they have nowhere to go.” The group saves their best offering for last in “Hey Lacey.” Softer in instrumentation and tone than the preceding cuts, the guitar interplay and quiet piano allow Tucker’s voice to shine. If one listens closely, they might even hear a touch of cautious optimism and warmth, as the track prepares for the metaphorical Winter.
Beyond the expectation and anticipation of new, high-quality music, supergroups have the added allure of providing insight into the individual members’ past bands. In a way, listening to Emerald Valley allows a deeper understanding of what made groups like Sleater-Kinney, R.E.M. and The Minus 5 unique and enjoyable. Blending distinct artistic visions and musical prowess from already-established musicians is not an exact science and there remains much mystery as to why some collections of individuals work while others don’t. Luckily, Filthy Friends and Emerald Valley work, providing listeners with an honest, if sometimes bleak, soundtrack to accompany life in 2019.