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Filthy Friends - Emerald Valley

  by Adrian Janes

published: 4 / 7 / 2019

Filthy Friends - Emerald Valley
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Format: CD


Passionate second album from Oregon-based Filthy Friends counts the cost of human and environmental exploitation

Filthy Friends are something of a revival of the supergroup concept, featuring as they do Peter Buck of REM and Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker. Less well-known, except among devotees of the US underground, are guitarist Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks (a longstanding Seattle band), bassist Scott McGauhey of the Minus 5 and drummer Linda Pitmon of Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, who previously played with Buck and McCaughey on a series of albums called the Baseball Project. Credentials aside, what is more important is that in ‘Emerald Valley’ the quintet have created a powerful album, coherent both in sound and a passionately-felt politics that stands up for the environment and the downtrodden (the degradation of one being so often linked with that of the other). The title track encapsulates a sensibility as acutely aware of the cycle of natural beauty (“Vibrant green is here again”) as it is of the struggle of agricultural workers to survive and the overarching system that leads to the over-exploitation of both. In case that all sounds a bit too much like an economic thesis, it should be stressed that the band’s energy,Tucker’s voice and a subtle shadow of strings give these themes vigorous life. The rumbling drums and Patti Smith-like fervour of ‘Pipeline’, and the defiance of ‘The Elliott’ - a largely-protected forest in Oregon, for which Tucker pleads, a tad prosaically, “Enough, enough/A balance must be struck”, between its preservation and greater commercial exploitation - deepen the sense of grief and grievance. Ironically or not, the ferocious guitar of ‘November Man’ resembles nothing so much as a buzzsaw coldly slicing through trees. If you didn’t know that a US President is elected in November, Tucker’s scornful portrait (“Long skinny tie/Hair of gold/You made the deal/Our future’s sold”) makes the song’s target piercingly clear. The human cost of policies, which is to say deliberate decisions by some people about the lives of others, is never far from the minds of the Friends. It’s especially so on ‘Angels’, lamenting the treatment of the children of the immigrant convoys that have tried to cross into the US from its southern border. Though the imagery is somewhat clichéd (the “angels” counterposed to “some devil making rules”), Tucker’s heartfelt singing and the sombre guitar and drum pattern demand a better response than cages and separation. This humanity is equally to the fore on the poignant ‘One Flew East’, where people are displaced by gentrification, and ‘Last Chance County’. Even though the latter is one of the more upbeat songs, with some especially frantic guitarwork, ultimately it seems to be about the American Dream of personal success, held out to everyone but disappointing so many who remain “Going round in circles” chasing it. In view of the weighty issues pressing down elsewhere on the album, the defiance of ‘Break Me’ and its powerful Tom Pettyish mix of electric and acoustic guitars is a bracing tonic, even if (like the earlier ‘Only Lovers Are Broken’) it’s primarily a song of personal relationships rather than political ones. It’s in personal connection that respite is finally sought, in the lover or close friend of ‘Hey Lacey’. A ballad that begins with voice and guitar but becomes wrapped around with piano and hints of strings like something caught on the breeze, there’s a return to the opening track’s natural imagery. But now it is the approach of Winter: “The weather’s knocking at our door/The wind is stronger than before”. But there’s also a fragile hope: “The future’s nothing that we know/So hold me closer than before”. he song’s folky feel and the purity of Tucker’s tone evoke a time when Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were keepers of America’s conscience. Though the music of Filthy Friends is in no way radical, its strength lies precisely in musicians who give traditional rock virtues of power, melody and lyrical expression renewed life by grappling with the world of today. They may not be able to clean up American politics, but these songs can still raise heads, and hearts.

Track Listing:-
1 Emerald Valley
2 Pipeline
3 November Man
4 Only Lovers Are Broken
5 Angels
6 The Elliott
7 One Flew East
8 Break Me
9 Last Chance County
10 Hey Lacey

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Invitation (2017)
Fantastic debut album from unlikely super group Filthy Friends which has members from R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, King Crimson, Young Fresh Fellows and Fastbacks

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