Some Reunions Are Worth the Fuss. Take Meat Puppets.

Photo: Joseph Cultice / Courtesy of the artist

Derrick Bostrom reunites with the Kirkwood brothers for the first time in 24 years, and the resulting Dusty Notes rings true to Meat Puppets' legacy.

Dusty Notes
Meat Puppets


8 March 2019

Meat Puppets had a good thing going for a while. In the dying days of the MySpace era, the legendary Arizona band's frontman Curt Kirkwood took to the internet to ask fans if they were interested in seeing a reunion of the original lineup. Drummer Derrick Bostrom turned out not to be interested, making the reunion only two-thirds successful. But the Kirkwood brothers didn't let that stand in their way as they went on to record four new albums of material from 2007 to 2013 with drummers Ted Marcus and later Shandon Sahm.

After 2013's rather stellar yet overlooked Rat Farm, the band appeared to take a break from recording. Lots of gigging ensued and the Kirkwood brothers were eventually properly reunited with Bostrom when Meat Puppets were inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. Not only did the band allegedly put on a great little show for the occasion, but a connection with Derrick Bostrom was reestablished. When Shandon Sahm told the band that he was moving out of the country, they offered his spot to Bostrom, who took it. Dusty Notes marks the first album to be recorded by the original Meat Puppets lineup since 1995.

To say there is a lot riding on Dusty Notes is an understatement of 1980s college rock proportions. These are the same three men who recorded Meat Puppets II, an album that made such an impression on the late Kurt Cobain that he chose three of its songs to include in Nirvana's MTV unplugged performance. If you prefer your Meat Puppets to be less garagey and more psychedelic, then Mirage is your benchmark. Despite the mainstream success it represents, many devoted fans still have a lingering fondness for the 1994 best-seller Too High to Die and its flagship single "Backwater". Does Dusty Notes live up to such a rich past? If you are already a fan, then it doesn't need to. If you're on the fence and need a little convincing, then the simple answer is yes.

The question becomes more difficult if you try to pin Dusty Notes to a particular point in the band's past. There's their punker-than-punk debut, the carefully arranged Mirage and Forbidden Places, the meat-and-potatoes rock of Huevos, and the heavy tilt of No Joke! to use as reference points, but none of these feel entirely appropriate. If anything Dusty Notes sneaks away pieces of warped Americana from various deep cuts of previous albums and give them a mature twist befitting of the 21st-century Meat Puppets. It finds the band embracing their firm grip on the Grateful Dead and the Band while still allowing the psychedelic shading to alter their character just enough. It's everything you have come to expect from a band that, long ago, dealt in the unexpected. To top it all off, Curt Kirkwood can still write a song incapable of leaving your head. As Bostrom told him during the recording sessions, "You know what people are gonna do after they listen to this? Listen to it again." And that's not just talk.

Bolstered by keyboard contributions by Rob Stabinsky and some extra guitar from Curt Kirkwood's son Elmo, Dusty Notes is the most sturdy Meat Puppets album since their last one -- and the one before that, and so on. "Warranty" gets things started perfectly, a piece of pastoral country rock, drenched with soaring guitar echoes and driven by oink-per-beat polka. "Take a look at what I am / You're looking through the invisible man" goes the ascending chorus, almost as if it were designed to forecast as well as announce a triumphant album: "Satisfaction cannot be guaranteed / When you don't know just what you see." Under different pop culture circumstances, "Warranty" could become as ubiquitous as "Backwater" was in the '90s, it's that good.

With "Nine Pins", Curt Kirkwood convinces the listener that his originals can coexist with, and maybe even be mistaken for, old country. Hell, it's even more convincing than their cover of Don Gibson's "Sea of Heartbreak" which finds Ron Stabinsky stuck in faux saloon pattern. "Nine Pins", on the other hand, has rolling banjos, a gleeful organ, and some down-home vocal harmonies setting the scene with the refrain "and the moon shines down." If you are a fan of Murmur-era R.E.M., "On" will do nicely. The melody to "Shaking Through" melds with the brisk waltz time of "We Walk": "Like an old broken record / It just keeps on playing on." It isn't until "Vampyr's Winged Fantasy" that Meat Puppets let things get a little freaky. Here, the band let go of the Americana crutches and make a grab for their No Joke!­-era bluster without a care for how it will strike the listener. The father and son team of guitars squall together in a psychedelic freak-out that makes the song's 3:39 length too short.

Now that the three original members of the Meat Puppets are once again an active band, the pressure is on. You can almost see some of their flock leaping to their phones or keyboards, ready to split hairs to bring you news of how Dusty Notes doesn't measure up to Up on the Sun. Feel free to ignore the skepticism and pessimism. Derrick Bostrom proclaimed the Meat Puppets to be a "national treasure" for a reason, and that's because quality and fun have been equally balanced ingredients in their best work. Dusty Notes bears that mark.






Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.