The first releases from Filthy Friends, the scorchingly melodic rock group whose membership consists of some of the most original musical voices of the past three decades, came as a small, delightful shock to the system. Not only because of the names associated with the project, including Sleater-Kinney co-founder Corin Tucker, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and indie stalwarts Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, but also because of how ably they were able to mesh their individual sounds into a crackling melodic whole on debut album Invitation.
Now, with their follow-up—Emerald Valley, out on Kill Rock Stars on May 3rd—the Friends have proven their collective mettle, crafting a thematic suite of songs that finds the quintet digging deeper into their bag of musical tricks and giving Tucker room to rage about and mourn the fate of our planet and the people who inhabit it.
The core idea came from a demo Buck shared with Tucker for a grinding blues song that eventually turned into this new album’s title track. The minute she heard it, Tucker says, it sparked something within her: “I had this long poem growing in my brain,” she says. “It turned into a sort of manifesto about the kind of place we are at as a country but also as a region. Just taking stock of where we’re at and feeling like I can’t believe we let things get this bad.”
While Emerald Valley s tarts off with idyllic imagery (“Rolling fields, they speak your name/vibrant green is here again”), the album and its title track slowly reveal the ugly underneath, with human arrogance and hubris hurting the Earth and the people who take on “backbreaking work for little pay.”
From there, the Friends address growing concerns over oil production and distribution (“Pipeline”), gentrification and income inequality within the band’s hometown of Portland, Oregon (“One Flew East”), and taking on the voice of the desperate souls that are getting crushed under the wheels of capitalism (“Last Chance County”). The band paints these themes with many different shades of the rock palette, nestling a snapping punk tune between a bit of jangly pop and an almost-shoegaze ballad, with stops along the way for songs that burn as hot and move as slow as lava and tunes that stay steady and fast as a rocket launch.
Emerald Valley is also a testament the indefatigable spirit of the Filthy Friends themselves. Scott McCaughey bounced back from a stroke he suffered in late 2017, which curtailed the band’s tour plans and is playing with more fire than ever. As well, Corin Tucker and Peter Buck were able to devise some amazing work even as their creative energies were being pulled toward other projects like Arthur Buck and Sleater-Kinney. Too, the band was able to bring a new member into the fold with drummer Linda Pitmon coming on board to replace Bill Rieflin without losing an ounce of their power.
We could all take a lesson from Filthy Friends. As proven by Emerald Valley, when a group of like-minded people gather their individual strengths together and point them toward a singular goal, there’s no telling how powerful they can become and what an impact they can make on the world at large.
Portland, Oregon's EYELIDS existed long before the actual band came to be. Friends for over two decades, principal songwriters John Moen and Chris Slusarenko had long desired to get together to write songs, “sweet melodies” paired with “bummer vibes,” which would fuse Big Star’s jangle to XTC’s melodicism, connecting the dots between the dream pop sounds of the ‘80s Paisley Underground to the homespun post-punk of the legendary Flying Nun label.
For years, Moen and Slusarenko played and wrote in the company of some of the most legendary songwriters of indie rock including Robert Pollard (Guided by Voices), Stephen Malkmus (Pavement/Jicks), Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) and Elliott Smith. In 2014 they decided that it was time to finally start writing and recording together, adding the talents of guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Drews (Sunset Valley, Damien Jurado). The end result was their thirteen song debut album, 854, which gained positive notes from A/V Club, Brooklyn Vegan, BBC6 Radio and MOJO magazine. NPR called them “Portland’s best kept secret”.
That secret was short lived. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, the band has issued recordings at a prolific clip: They’ve released five 7”s and a 12” EP (which was labeled “EP/single of the year” by legendary East Coast freeform radio station WFMU ). They toured in the States and overseas, as headliners and as openers for Drive-By Truckers & The Charlatans UK (after hearing 854 Charlatans leader Tim Burgess asked to release the album overseas via his O Genesis label).
“With the first album we quickly realized that we were not just a studio project but a band, that wanted to play these songs live,” Slusarenko says. Eyelids wasted no time enlisting Paul Pulvirenti (No. 2, Elliott Smith) and Jim Talstra (The Minus 5, Dharma Bums) as their rhythm section. The band’s live action led directly to the band’s new album, or. “We wanted to make the second album with all five of us from the beginning and it was pretty exciting to see that come to full bloom,” Slusarenko says.
With or, the band’s second full-length LP, Eyelids has created their most emotional record yet. Produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. and mixed by Thom Monahan (Peter, Bjorn and John, Devandra Banhart, Fruit Bats), or is liberally sprinkled with the hooks, melodies, and charming wordplay that make a certain kind of rock & roll fan fall madly in love with an LP. It’s all evident in the opening song, “Slow It Goes” — is that a play on Vonnegut or Nick Lowe? Somehow both feel appropriate — the kind of classic easily slotted between Superchunk and the Raspberries on a mixtape, locked and loaded with a perfectly winsome expression of angst: “She says, ‘If I can keep from sighing, why can’t you?’” From there, the sequence dives deeper and deeper into Slusarenko and Moen’s love of underground pop: listen to those sparkling “Starry Eyes”-worthy guitars on “Falling Eyes,” the psychedelic swirl of “My Caved In Mind,” and the Dream Syndicate mysticism of “Tell Me You Know.”
or marks the first time of having an outside producer and having Peter Buck in that role proved a steady presence, along with his encyclopedic rock know-how. “Peter brings a certain calm to the studio at an Eyelids session,” Moen says. “I think he helps us get the best out of ourselves in a timely way, as he doesn’t like belaboring a point.”
Joined by guests Jay Gonzales (Drive-By Truckers), Jonathan Segel (Camper Van Beethoven) and Buck himself, the record demonstrates what happens when a group of old friends get into a room and truly collaborate. With friendships stretching back to their teens, Slusarenko and Moen bring out the best in each other as writers, resulting in a creative tension between their respective lyrical outlooks (dark/sunny). With or, collaboration was key. Take for instance the song “Moony,” which began as a sketch by Slusarenko. “It had a kind of pretty looping cyclical feel,” he says, but Moen and Drews began adding Marquee Moon-style guitars on the spot, and the rhythm section of Pulvirenti and Talstra hit on a Black Sea-era XTC beat. Suddenly, it became a whole new beast. “It was a new language for the band,” Slusarenko says. “We’re all pretty different stylistically, so it’s always cool to see where we push and pull each other.”
or is the sound of a band realizing its potential, of old friends connecting creatively and sonically, creating exuberant, nuanced, pop music.