Talkhouse Playlist: Getting Back to American Music with Dinowalrus

Featuring the epitome of biker rock from ZZ Top and more.

Brooklyn DIY band Dinowalrus released their self-produced fourth album, Fairweather, this September. While the record treads the synthy, psych path most closely associated with Britpop acts like Primal Scream and the Stone Roses, the band’s Peter Feigenbaum decided to go all-American for today’s playlist. Check it out below!
–Dave Lucas, Talkhouse Marketing Manager

I forced myself to not listen to any British music for a week.

I decided I needed a break from my favorite Factory, Creation and 4AD jams, so it was a good chance to reconnect with all the bold American musical statements and landscapes that have actually had a pretty big impact on my life… before Ian Brown convinced me that “this American satellite’s won.”

Royal Trux – “Cleveland”

Although some of their musical inspiration seems to come from the Stones, Neil Young, T. Rex and the Faces, Royal Trux twist things via an edgy yet goofy aesthetic that defines early 1990s NYC style — an attitude that also runs through the work of the Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth and the films of Harmony Korine. I love how Royal Trux teeter on the edge between bona fide songwriting and gonzo studio collages. Neil is an underrated guitar god, and Jennifer is a truly original lead singer that no one in the world could emulate.

Diamond Nights – “Destination Diamonds”

These guys are perhaps the most legit post-Strokes ’70s hard-rock throwback band of the 2000s. They can really fuckin’ play — showing a level of charisma, style and craft that’s very rarely seen in new bands these days. Channeling Thin Lizzy’s cool and collected swagger, with a dash of NWOBHM, Morgan Phelan’s gritty, youthful and tuneful voice was the soundtrack to my formative early years in New York City, providing a great palette cleanser between heavy doses of Black Dice, Ex Models and Gang Gang Dance.

Kurt Vile – “Puppet to the Man”

It should be noted that my buddy Rob Laakso played in Diamond Nights and is currently in Kurt Vile’s band, so that might be an influence for their proximity on my playlist. Occasionally, there’s a certain lost, wandering, melancholy mood that sweeps over me, and Kurt Vile’s music is the only thing that seems to make sense when I’m feeling this way. Even though Kurt Vile makes chill music with a laid-back drawl reminiscent of J Mascis, there’s a pessimistic intensity to it, along the same lines as Nirvana’s famous MTV Unplugged set.

Meat Puppets – “Lost”

I think I like Kurt Vile so much because he reminds me of the Meat Puppets, one of my favorite bands in high school. Like most people, I got into the Meat Puppets via Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. At the time, it was a big leap of faith to connect Nirvana with twangy, fingerpicked country rock, but the Meat Puppets’ weirdness, catchy hooks and occasional breakneck punk tempos convinced me of their greatness.

ZZ Top – “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”

Later covered by Motörhead, this track seems to be the epitome of biker rock— a uniquely American concept that I’ve always been drawn to, running the gamut from the Easy Rider soundtrack to Mudhoney, who famously sampled Peter Fonda’s The Wild Angels sound bite, “We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man” (which Primal Scream later sampled on “Loaded”). I think ZZ Top avoid the dad-rock trap by being edgy, humorous, and quirky, and having a willingness to evolve. Also, Billy Gibbons has unassailable cred. He appeared on the legendary Nuggets comp, via his late ’60s garage-rock band the Moving Sidewalks, and I read that the Kirkwood brothers from the Meat Puppets drew heavy influence from them on their Huevos EP after receiving a fan letter from Billy Gibbons, so that ties ZZ Top back into the ’80s underground as well.

Mother Love Bone – “Captain Hi-Top”

Just as millennials feel the anxiety of living in a world of six-month microtrends that flow nonchalantly across their iPhone screens, the 1991 radio/MTV paradigm shift from glam to grunge was quite earth-shattering for Gen Xers.

In reality, though, like in most things, the change didn’t happen overnight but was a slow, gradual transition, and some especially great bands thrived in this transitional era from 1987 to 1991 — Jane’s Addiction being the most well-known. Mother Love Bone, a Seattle supergroup of sorts featuring future members of Pearl Jam, could have very well changed the course of history, supplanting Nirvana as the group that would overthrow Guns N’ Roses to become the biggest band in the world. In fact, this track shares a strong resemblance to “Rocket Queen.”

Although Andy Wood indulges in the high-pitched Robert Plant/Freddie Mercury–derived vocal stylings heard in many a Sunset Strip hair band, and the guitars have a tried-and-true Aerosmith street-boogie strut, “Captain Hi-Top” injects a certain humor, irony, austerity and retro quality that puts it miles ahead of the late-period glam metal drivel that was coming out at the time (Warrant, Winger), with the potential to appeal to both the heavy-metal parking lot crowd and burgeoning grungers. But, with Andy Wood’s untimely death, it wasn’t meant to be.

The Replacements – “Dose of Thunder”

I was bummed that the Replacements didn’t play this song at their excellent Forest Hills tennis stadium show two years ago. They are almost canonical in my corner of the scene, which might be why I have been listening to them continuously for the past twelve years when my interest in other Our Band Could Be Your Life bands like the Minutemen has cooled off a bit.

What does it for me is their strong bedrock foundations of heartland ’70s hard rock and punk, but also their ambition to swing for the fences with epic songwriting as well as great production that packs enough wallop to keep up with any classic rock radio staple. And yet there is a certain sloppiness, unhinged yearning, and underdog mentality to their music that pulls me in regardless of whether times are good or bad. This song is the perfect example of how the Replacements are smart enough to know how to play dumb.

Dead Boys – “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do”

I first heard this song covered by Green River, the Seattle proto-grunge band. I’d say the Dead Boys are my favorite American ’70s punk band, with way more ’tude than the Ramones, and their Cleveland background probably had something to do with their aptitude in absorbing Rust Belt riffage from the Stooges and MC5 (from nearby Detroit) and modernizing it for the punk era.

Cheetah Chrome and Steve Jones have a similar playing approach, which is why I always think of the Dead Boys as the “American” Sex Pistols. In comparison to the warp-speed hardcore punk that followed, the Dead Boys manage to maintain a surprisingly danceable, swingin’ mid-tempo groove, without comprising their intensity.

Moon Duo – “Circles”

Moon Duo definitely take the Spacemen 3 mantra of “three chords good, two chords better, one chord best” to heart. This song plays off the classic “Roadrunner” chord progression as well. I really like how the organs fit so nicely into the fuzz pedal tones. They are an influence for what I might want to do on future Dinowalrus albums: to double down on our psych-rock tendencies, but keep things sleek, minimalist and modern, while still incorporating synths.

Sunflower Bean – “Tame Impala”

It’s exciting to see a band from our corner of the world do so well; it makes me feel like success could still be just around the bend. About six months after they played Dinowalrus’ Complexion record release show in 2014, Sunflower Bean blew up! I really like how they have a blend of post-punk, goth and psych, much like us, but their end result is totally different. This track doesn’t actually sound that much like Tame Impala, but it does show Sunflower Bean’s Black Sabbath tendencies. When Julia’s vocals are thrown into the mix, the effect reminds me of Sleater-Kinney’s doomy pre-hiatus album, The Woods.