New Tunes Reviews, Nov 12: The Killers, an ode to Slim Dunlap, Inside Llewyn Davis, and a frantic Retro Release

When The Killers gather their strongest songs on to one album, as in this week’s Direct Hits, its hard to ignore how great that band was. 2004’s Hot Fuss. Everyone danced along to their synth-influenced melodies. They scored some crossover hits and made some music videos and were suddenly everywhere. Their other albums were not as successful as that debut studio album, but each album did have some great songs. They were loyal to that Las Vegas sound (whatever that means).

This latest compilation includes “When You Were Young,” “Smile Like You Mean It,” “Read My Mind,” and “Mr. Brightside” (a song that is less annoying now as opposed to when it was initially released and subsequently over-played by radio stations, television shows, and bars). There is “Human” and “Spaceman,” two songs that just plain silly, but catchy. The first 10 songs are from that pre-2009 era of The Killers when you could always count on the band to construct a new-wave, pop power ballad.

Although, I wonder why “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” is missing from this collection. I always considered that one of their best songs.

Songs for Slim: Rockin’ Here Tonight is a project conceived as a way to raise money for Slim Dunlap, The Replacements guitarist who suffered a stroke last year. Originally released as group of EPs, this 2 disc set is a tribute to Slim’s songs (both as a solo artist and on Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down), as sang by Craig Finn, Deer Tick, Patterson Hood (Drive-by Truckers), Jeff Tweedy, Lucero, Frank Black, Jakob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, and others.

It is a great testament to the far reaching influence of Slim on the music community and during his time as part of The Replacements. I enjoyed “Hate This Town,” especially when Patterson Hood interjects a direct shout-out to Slim towards the end of the song. He thanks Slim for “his beautiful songs” and hopes that he feels better soon. Jeff Tweedy’s twangy “Ballad of the Opening Band” is wonderful as well.

The whole album makes me want to do a deep-dive into Slim-era Replacements and post-breakup solo stuff. That is a definite possibility for the future.

Inside Llewyen Davis: Original Soundtrack Recording comes out a little bit more than a month before the release of the Coen Brothers movie by the same name. As with “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” this album features music from the movie, sang by some of the movie’s stars, produced by T-Bone Burnett. The music really sets the stage for the film, which is about the Village’s folk music scene of the 1960s. While a majority of the songs feature the movie’s stars (Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac), modern day folkies Marcus Mumford and The Punch Brothers to make appearances. A song called “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” leads directly into a Bob Dylan remastered b-side from the 60s called “Farewell.” This is the best type of period-piece. It feels authentic and spontaneous. This is where Coens and their creative team excel.

Apparently the Violent Femmes released a complete-6-disc remastered collection of all their albums this week.

This made me revisit their signature self titled album, Violent Femmes, from 1983 (!!!!) for this week’s Retro Release.

I’ll admit the main reason I knew about this band was their memorable cameo on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But Sabrina/Clarissa/Melissa Joan Heart was always kind of hip. Its logical that she attended a Violent Femmes in-store appearance.

When thinking about this album in the context of the 1980s and current music, I thought it might be dated but it isn’t. There is something unique about this band’s sound. It could be the jittery mix of tapping drums and Gordon Gano’s weird, talk-along, raw and disorganized vocals. There is nothing refined about the Femmes. It sounds haphazard at times. The whole album emulates the anxiety of youth. Its unsure of itself. It is apprehensive with each step.

While “Blister in the Sun” might be their most popular song, the album is full of many more classics, like”Kiss Off” for example. Who doesn’t want to tell someone to just “Kiss Off!” The song starts off slow, with some talking vocals, and then speeds up with urgency. Then it slows down In the chorus, Gano sings, “They’ll hurt me bad but I won’t mind/ They’ll hurt me bad they do it all the time” while “Yeah!/ Yeah!/ Do it all the time!” echos in the background. Getting hurt is a shared experience and the Femmes know that.

“Please Do Not Go,” is another classic song. Lyrically, the song is a plea for company. Whether it be friendship or a lover, all that is required is a few more minutes of a little more explanation.  “Add It Up” asks “Why can’t I get just one kiss?,” escalates to “Why can’t I get just one screw?,” followed by “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” “Prove My Love” literally appears to be about the struggling to prove to someone that you care. When is it just too much??!!

This album is chock full of nervous panic. It is gritty and raw, while maintaining some innocence. If I was actually born in 1983, I would’ve been a big fan of this album. I’ll have to settle for loving it in 2013, while realizing that an anxious kid living in 1983 has basically in the same concerns as one living in 2013.

Bands To Keep An Eye On

Band: Walk the Moon
Label: RCA Records
Genre: Indie Rock
Sounds like: The Talking Heads, The Killers, and Ra Ra Riot, with a hint of Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors
They hail from: Cincinnati, Ohio
What to expect: You will be kept on your toes as the sound shifts from synth rock to catchy pop. The hormonally charged lyrics send you straight back to those lusty days of high school crushes, as do the occasional yelps of falsetto. It’s fresh, it’s youthful, and it’s fun. 
Fun Fact: “Anna Sun”, Esquire’s 2011 song of the summer was named after lead singer, Petricca’s professor, Anna Xiao Dong Sun.
Standout Tracks: Anna Sun, Quesadilla, I Want! I Want! and William Blake, the sped up chipmunk version of I Want!, I Want!. Some things just sound better chipmunked.
 ”My eyes are on the road/ But my mind is on your body.”