Emerald Valley is the second album from Filthy Friends, a supergroup of sorts which features Sleater-Kinney’s primary lead singer Corin Tucker and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, among others. When I googled just “emerald valley,” I ended up with a couple results denoting some ranch or something in Colorado and then this album, so as far as I know, the album’s meaning isn’t too mystical or supernatural or anything.
This is fine because Tucker’s lyrical achievements unfurl as vast, expansive and borne in character early and often here, like on lead title track: “The fields are fertile and the valley long / They came in pickups and they drove in cars / They work the fields and the bread was won” and ensuing track “Pipeline,” “The water goes dark / And the fish can’t swim / Spoiling land / And the people can’t live”. Actually, it’s almost like a shock how pastoral and vivid Tucker’s lyrical work is here, and quite refreshing after the thickly narcissistic romantic exploits of certain New York indie pop divas we’ve heard lately.
Buck’s guitar frills compliment Tucker perfectly, with deliberate lines laced loosely in blues but more the plangent alt-rock we’ve come to know and love from his first band. But it’s Emerald Valley’s commendable knack for never overindulging or over-emoting that really cement it as a great album — for all its grandiosity it’s also a disciplined alt-rock statement that stays the course and plays as universally listenable.
“November Man” chimes in with some great guitar sound that took me right back to “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and most of Monster, in general, before, I kid you not, unleashing this burpy frill about a half minute that I actually thought was a lawn mower going on outside my window (it’s an 80-degree, sunny day in Indiana today). Tucker’s lyrics here, while turning toward the humanistic, also become more esoteric: “We don’t have no words / We don’t have no music / We don’t have no love for the November man”. The tone in her voice is beautiful here too, along with sympathizing with this male figure as it pipes out like one of the classic folk divas of the ’70s like Patti Smith.
“Only Lovers Are Broken” turns up the speed a little bit and “punks” it up just a tad (I was wondering when this thing was going to devolve into a Wild Flag album) and again, the energy is there, guiding this project to probably a certain superiority to Tucker’s the Corin Tucker Band, which tended to mire in melodrama with a dearth of instrumentation feats. “Angels,” then, marks another shift and mood and commendable sequencing wrinkle, with a dark, deliberate guitar arpeggio leading into a chorus that though climactic, is again, deliberately professional. I don’t really know what to say about the precocious way this band has of acting like they’re not trying too hard, other than that maybe that’s what we should have come to expect from members of such legendary bands as Sleater-Kinney and R.E.M., when they come across some real inspiration.