Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker titled the second album by Filthy Friends — her side project with former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck — after a nickname for her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. She makes it sound like a desperate place on Emerald Valley, where wealthy insurgents have pushed out the area’s farmers and working class (the title track) and riding the bus is a dangerous experience (“Last Chance County,” on which she sings, “the smell is overwhelming and the occupants are mostly drunk”). On other tracks, she has a similar disdain for Washington, D.C., blasting Trump on “November Man,” condemning his administration’s family separation policy on (“Angels”) and embracing fossil fuels (“Pipeline”). It’s not a happy album, but it is powerful and at times even beautiful.
Although Tucker’s lyrics err on the didactic side (the snarking about the president sipping white Russians and Moscow mules on “November Man” feel a bit forced), she and Buck have composed a mix of lush and hard-rocking backdrops for her screeds. “Only Lovers Are Broken” sounds like an early R.E.M. track at first with its post-punky opening riff and jangly filigrees but Tucker’s soaring vocals turn it into something prettier, even with her lines about flowers wilting and perfume stinking. “The Elliott,” about deforestation, finds Buck playing lumbering riffs with a new-wavey instrumental break as Tucker rallies “Enough, enough, the people must speak up.” The best tracks, though, are the harder rocking ones, simply because they match Tucker’s anger. On “November Man,” Buck makes his guitar scream like a plane taking off, and on “Last Chance County,” he commands an urgent guitar riff that approximates Tucker’s anxious hopelessness.
It’s moments like that, where the music and Tucker’s words work in concert together to summon an energy, usually a nervous one, where Emerald Valley feels more like the work of a songwriting partnership than its predecessor, 2017’s Invitation. It makes the jagged bleakness of Tucker’s observations all the more digestible.