Friday, April 30, 2021

Little Simz - 'Introvert'

We're now less than a month away from the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death, and the past year--though tumultuous and frustrating--has shed light on many problems that still persist in this country.

The weekend leading up to St. Patrick's Day last year, my wife and I took a trip to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota.  COVID-19 had hit stateside at that point, but it wasn't until a few days later that the whole country would essentially go into lockdown.  The catchphrase, "We're all in this together" soon became the unofficial motto of the pandemic. 

But just a couple of months later, in that same city, George Floyd was killed while under policy custody and the whole world took notice.  The viral video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for 9-1/2 minutes sent shockwaves across the internet.  For many Americans, this moment was a wake up call.  For many black Americans, it unfortunately felt like the same story, different day... but this time others listened.

The civil unrest boiled over soon after, with George Floyd Protests and Black Lives Matter marches in streets across the country, protesting police brutality, racial inequality and systemic racism. Riots in the Twin Cities led to over 600 arrests and around $500 million in property damage, but the message was heard.  

Nearly a year later, officer Chauvin has been found guilty in Floyd's murder.  For many, it feels like justice has finally been served in the face of countless other cases where no conviction took place.  But there is still a long way to go before equality is reached, even if this moment triggered a movement.

In the Hip Hop world, many artists took the emotions of the past year and channeled them into song.  One of the most powerful songs and music videos I've come across is from British rapper Little Simz in her new song, "Introvert".

Little Simz, AKA Simbiatu 'Simbi' Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, is a London-based rapper, singer and actress of Nigerian heritage.  Her forthcoming album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is due in September 2021.

Opening with a military-style drumline, "Introvert" builds to a sweeping orchestral and choir arrangement with Little Simz' emotive and dynamic lyrics carrying the message of empowerment.  The video features beautifully-shot modern choreography.

All of the song's lyrics are important, but here's one snippet that struck a chord with me:

"Look beyond the surface don’t just see what you wanna see

My speech ain’t involuntary

Project with intention straight from my lungs

I’m a black woman and I’m proud one

We walk in blind faith not knowing the outcome

But as long as we unified then we’ve already won."

Watch the video for Little Simz' "Introvert" below, via YouTube.  For more on this artist, visit:

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vök - 'Lost in the Weekend'

A few summers ago, I took a memorable trip to Iceland.  The country's stark and dramatic landscape was breathtaking.  We drove the coastal highway between sporadic, quaint towns, flanked by the ocean on one side and rocky cliffs and waterfalls on the other.  

We stayed on a volcanic island (Vestmannaeyjar) one night, a horse farm in the middle of--essentially--nowhere on another, and in a domed glass rental house nestled deep inside a valley the next.  We threw our coats over the windows to block out the near 24-hour-daylight of the summer season. Time, as a construct, was pretty meaningless when it was as bright going to bed as waking up, and it took a bit more discipline to go to sleep at any point.

We waded in natural hot springs--both established and off the beaten path--and soaked up the cool misty air and amazing views around us.  We drove down windy gravel roads without seeing another car for miles on end. We ate amazing food, drank local beer and experienced the capital city of Reykjavik's vibrant and artistic culture.  

I was astounded that the country's entire population (approx. 357,000) was on par with that of my own small city back home in Des Moines, Iowa.  In other words, once you got outside the bustling airport and tourist attractions, Iceland was an easy place to disappear into solitude.

While in Reykjavik on our last full day before flying home, we stopped into the super cool Lucky Records.  

The shop was already closing for the day, but we still had just enough time to comb through the local music section and put on headphones to listen to some unfamiliar Icelandic artists.  I was, of course, familiar with the likes of Björk and Sigur Rós, but there was a sea of music at my fingertips to explore in a short time.  

I only had enough room in my suitcase to stash one LP without the threat of bending, so I had to act quickly and decisively in my purchase.

And then I turned my headphones on to Vök.

The Icelandic dreampop trio instantly caught my ear when I put on their album, Figure.  The pensive and introspective atmospherics and pulsating rhythms encapsulated much of the feeling and emotion that I'd had driving around the countryside that week.

The store clerk tapped me and said, "Okay, we're closing now", which snapped me out of my music-induced stupor.  I quickly snatched up a copy of the album and a red t-shirt with the Lucky Records logo, as the employees locked the doors behind me.

That record, Vök's Figure, made it home in one piece, fortunately, and still brings me back to that trip whenever I put it on.

Earlier this month, the band released a new music video to their latest single, "Lost in the Weekend", describing it as focusing, "...on the ease of over-indulgence when you’re living in the moment and the purposeful loss of a sense of self."

It seems like a pretty good takeaway message.  For me, Reykjavik would have been an easy place to get lost in the moment--losing all sense of what day or time it was in endless daylight, surrounded by art and music and food and drink.  As much as I enjoyed my time in the city, it was the stunning landscape of the nearby countryside that brought me the most self-reflection and relaxation.

You can watch the video for "Lost in the Weekend" below, via Vök's YouTube:

For more on Vök's music, visit the band's Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Original Mortal Kombat Soundtrack

With this Friday's highly anticipated (and R-rated) Mortal Kombat movie release, I thought I'd revisit the legacy and personal impact the franchise had on me growing up.

Back in 1995, when I was a 12-year-old, braces-wearing, comic book-trading nerd playing Sega at my friend's house up the street, Mortal Kombat was the epitome of cool.  It was edgy, violent and addictive.

The overtly brutal game encouraged you to take on your friends, cage match style. This was before XBox and PS5 let you talk smack to random strangers online, and you instead had to sit in farty bean bag chairs next to one another and battle it out, yelling, "Get over here!", "Toasty!", and "Finish him!"

Now, more than 25 years later, Mortal Kombat still finds an audience.  It's rare for something to stay relevant for so many years, crossing generations.  I've been away from the game for some time now, but I still got excited when the trailer to the new movie came out recently.

The 1995 Mortal Kombat film by the same name was a doozy.  I saw it in the theater, of course. It was by no means an Oscar contender, but it accomplished what it needed to, hindered only by a PG-13 rating. It's pretty dated to watch the movie now, but man, does it take you back in time.

 The plot was simple:  three martial artists travel to a secret island to fight in an underground tournament to determine the fate of the world.  The talents of Robin Shou and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa carried the film, while Christopher "Highlander" Lambert--for some reason--played the Japanese Thundergod, Raiden.

The success of the 1995 film was also due in part to its soundtrack.  The theme song, "Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)" by the Immortals was one of the hottest tracks of the year.  You might know it as the techno song that periodically screams "MORTAL KOMBAT!"

But to write the soundtrack off as a gimmick would be unfair.  It also contained some great original music, crossing the aggressive genres of heavy metal and techno.  Not all of the songs on the original motion picture soundtrack were featured in the film itself, but the mood fits throughout.  Metal bands like Type O Negative and Napalm Death were featured alongside electronic acts like Orbital and Utah Saints, taking the soundtrack as high as #10 on the Billboard Top 200 that year.

Amongst my personal favorite tracks were "Goodbye (demo version)" by industrial rock group Gravity Kills, and the smoldering "Burn" by Sister Machine Gun.

But it's Orbital's 9-1/2 minute-long masterpiece "Halcyon + On + On" that has stood the test of time.  The ambient and melodic track slowly builds up, utilizing a delicate piano and guitar loop and a backmasked vocal sample from "It's Fine Day" by Opus III for its angelic, trance-like nature.

It's an extended version of the original Orbital single, and probably one of the greatest soundtrack songs of all time, having also been used in Hackers, and later, Mean Girls.  It's also one of my favorite songs of all time, so I'm honestly disappointed in myself that in 16 years of writing for the Lonely Note, I've never actually posted about this song before. 

All through Jr. High and High School, my friends and I would put the cd on track #6, set the boom box to repeat and listen to it over and over again while we'd hang out and talk about life, so it brings back a flood of memories anytime I hear it.  Never heard it?  You can listen to "Halcyon + On + On" in the YouTube clip below.

I should also mention that I bought the follow up compilation album, 1996's Mortal Kombat: More Kombat. It also featured some great tracks continuing in the same industrial direction, including songs from God Lives Underwater, Sepultura, the Crystal Method, and a song called "My Ruin" by Crawlspace (later known as Sevendust).

Will 2021's Mortal Kombat reboot live up to the hype?  It's one of the latest films to be simultaneously released to theaters and HBOMAX, and the trailer has a lot of fans (AKA other dudes in their 30s) worked up.  

Will it have a killer soundtrack?  That is yet to be determined, but there is a pretty sweet updated "Techno Syndrome 2021" theme song remix to go with it, so it's a start!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Cannons - 'Bad Dream'

The dark, moody synthpop of Cannons' latest single, "Bad Dream", would have fit right in on the soundtrack to the 2011 movie Drive had it been released a decade earlier.

A continuation of the synthwave movement, Cannons hits on all the right notes that fans of retro '80s-90s culture, music and film love.  Fans of The xx, M83 and the Chromatics should find Cannons equally-appealing.

The video to "Bad Dream" feels like a mashup between Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, with a hint of Netflix true crime series and a splash of Napoleon Dynamite dance moves to boot.  Cassette boom boxes, giant cell phones, tube TVs, Ford Broncos and sequins all round out this creepy trip down nostalgia lane.

Watch the video for "Bad Dream" below, and visit the official Cannons website for more:

London Grammar - 'How Does It Feel'

Hannah Reid's soaring vocals take center stage on London Grammar's new album, Californian Soil.

The English indie-pop trio have teased new singles for the last 9 months leading up to the album's release just three days ago.

London Grammar takes sparse, dreamlike electronic and guitar arrangements and layers them with Reid's echoed, classically-trained vocals.  It's delicate, it's haunting, it's undeniably catchy.

Reid's dramatic vocals and cathartic delivery bring to mind Florence Welch, while musicians Dan Rothman and Dot Major round out the group's ambient stylings and bring elements of trip-hop and electronica/dance.

On singles, "How Does It Feel" and "Lord, It's a Feeling", the group takes their sound up a notch, complementing delicate atmospheric elements with epic waves of emotion. 

You can watch the official video for "How Does It Feel" and the official visualizer for "Lord, It's a Feeling" below, via YouTube.  

For more on London Grammar and their latest release, Californian Soil, visit

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Julian Lennon - 'Valotte'

My keen preoccupation with piano ballads continues to dominate the conversation with a spotlight on a 1984 single by Beatles offspring, Julian Lennon.  

'Valotte' was the opening track of the eponymous debut album of John Lennon's eldest son.  And while the album may be lazily remembered by armchair musicologists for the much poppier 'Too Late For Goodbyes,' 'Valotte' is the stronger composition in my opinion.  

Released only a few years after the elder Lennon's murder, the track is haunting on multiple levels:  for its lyrical depiction of a romantic relationship in its waning days; and perhaps more so for its vocals and stylings that sound nearly identical to a beloved man who was no longer alive.  

While I am sure many Beatles fans clamored for Julian's  musical offerings in the wake of his father's death, I am just as sure its fruition nevertheless served as an unfortunate reminder that the biological impersonation can rarely fill the void left by the loss of its progenitor.  

This is not to say that Julian's music is bad or subpar---far from it.  Instead, I merely point out that, while he may have been privileged to have a mythic musician for a father, he was likewise disadvantaged by the same's inescapable shadow.  No matter how immensely talented Julian could ever be, the wound of his father's death was too fresh for fans to move on from and to separate from the son.

(Don't believe me?  Take note of the career trajectory of Julian's half-brother--and John's son with Yoko Ono--Sean Lennon, a likewise talented and brilliant artist in his own right).  

Nevertheless, I believe enough time has passed for 'Valotte,' the song, to be given an independent look and listen.  Structurally, the track is full of infectious hooks and plaintive verses.  

Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar 
Wondering if we're really ever gonna get that far 
Do you know there's something wrong 
'Cause I've felt it all along

And its measured march toward the rewarding choral climax is splendidly tender.  Had Billy Joel or Elton John penned this song, it would have been canonized.  Think about that, and keep an open mind, when you take a look at the video for Julian Lennon's 'Valotte' below:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Billy Joel -'Big Shot' + 'Honesty' + 'My Life' + 'Zanzibar' + 'Stiletto'

Anymore, it is rare as hen's teeth for a studio album to contain a sequence that keeps hitting track after consecutive track after consecutive track. 

I suppose much of that may have to do with the single-centric music culture we seem to find ourselves in.  And perhaps much more of that may have to do with the short attention spans the plurality of the American citizenry seem to currently have as well.  What with the Tik-Toks and the Snapchats and the Tweets, the dopamine injections social media provides is often a much more attractive option for one to spend an evening doing than to actively listen to a longform audible masterpiece that requires more than five minutes of focus.

But I digress.

Of course, many Beatles albums fit the bill of sequential sublimity; as do those by Michael Jackson. Probably my earliest firsthand experiences with such a treasure trove of continuous audio bliss were with Ten by Pearl Jam and Nevermind by Nirvana. The first half--if not more-- of both of those albums have an indescribable chemistry, a consummate formulation that would do worse if produced in any other way.  I am sure there are numerous examples of other like-kind albums that I am forgetting or neglecting to mention right now.

Billy Joel's 1978 release, 52nd Street, fits the definition of the seamless album structure as described above.  At least the first five songs on the album consist of one of my favorite track successions.  Below is a synopsis of each, and why I believe they make up the bulk of one of the greatest piano rock records ever.  

1.  Big Shot

Not much needs to be said about this one.  'Big Shot' is one of Billy's biggest hits that is probably still played on most oldies stations today.  It's uptempo opening and large rhythms comprise a well served and over-the-top introduction to an album that would knock the socks of many listeners of the day.  Billy also sings in a dramatic New Wave Punk style that was emblematic of the era.

2. Honesty

A palate cleanser, 'Honesty' is a heartfelt ballad that I just so happen to believe is Joel's best composition ever.  No pun intended, but if any set of lyrics speak absolute truth to its underlying message, 'Honesty' is it.  For those of us fortunate to find ourselves in long term marriages or relationships, the song's message serves as convincing advice that many of us can attest to.  For a true romantic partnership to work, it requires vulnerability, sincerity, and compassion;  lust and histrionics may work in the short term, but they are never sustainable.

I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don't want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe   

3. My Life 

This is another track that needs no introduction.  Just like 'Big Shot,' it is another standard of the Great American Oldies Songbook.  The quintessential song of telling someone else to mind their own business, 'My Life' is politely rebellious; the lyrics may be telling the world to back off, but its underlying tune is a jaunty sing-along.  Highly relatable, 'My Life' has likely hit a chord with many who want to pursue their own happiness without the interference of judgmental authority figures and frenemies.  

(Note: the video below features  the beginning of the fifth track, 'Stiletto,' in its intro).  

4.  Zanzibar

At this point in 52nd Street, things begin to get interesting.  'Zanzibar' is a gritty ode to masculinity; a lament of a bachelor in the New York City metroplex who just so happens to likes booze, baseball, and women.  (Shocking, right?)  Its structure is equal parts theater production and equal parts speakeasy jazz.  This is probably one of Billy's most sophisticated creations, with multiple change-ups in a short five minute timeframe.  The choral hook, however, is what makes 'Zanzibar' a diamond in the rough.

I've got the old man's car
I've got a jazz guitar
I've got a tab at Zanzibar
Tonight that's where I'll be, I'll be

5. Stiletto 

With the fifth track, Billy rewards the listeners who have loyally listened thus far with jazzy syncopation and staccato, the nucleus of much of his catalog.  Not to worry, though, the track is still fundamentally pop in its structure.  While its introduction may resemble the lovechild of 'Careless Whisper' meets West Side Story, the half-minute mark gives way to the raucous storytelling Billy Joel has made millions on.  Just a man and his piano, 'Stiletto' is the essence of Billy Joel, and certainly the antecedent to later-comers like Ben Folds.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

JUNGLE - 'Keep Moving'

JUNGLE continues to release some of my favorite music videos.  

The London-based group's laid-back falsetto funk first caught on with 2014's hit, "Busy Earnin'".

Translating their electronic dance sounds into a seven-piece live band also gained the band considerable acclaim and a following on the concert circuit.  But for me, it's their straightforward but original choreographed videos that keep me coming back.  Seriously, I could just go to the group's YouTube channel now and get stuck watching their videos all afternoon.

And no exception is JUNGLE's latest single, "Keep Moving".  The song itself isn't a departure from the sound that the group's fans have come to expect, mixing string arrangements, relaxed grooves and a funky bassline into a mix that's equally as suitable for the dancefloor as it is for chilling out afterwards.

The video enters with a single woman and an abandoned prison, building up to a full on choreographed group dance.  The plot needn't go any deeper from there, as the joy is in the movement and atmosphere itself.  So, take a 5:21 break from your day and watch the latest from JUNGLE below:

JUNGLE's forthcoming album, Loving In Stereo, is set for release in August 2021.  You can preorder it today, at

Royal Blood - 'Limbo'

Royal Blood returned this past week with a funky new blues-rocker, called "Limbo".

The Brighton, UK-based duo have made a name for themselves over the past decade by combining heavily-distorted bass guitar and drum arrangements with catchy pop sensibilities.  It's heavy, it's bluesy, but it's melodic--in a similar vein to other two-piece bands like Death from Above 1979, the White Stripes, and the Black Keys.

I've long been a fan of two-piece bands--it's always cool to see how much noise and different dynamics a minimal setup can still crank out.

When Royal Blood's single, "Trouble's Coming" came out this past autumn, it became a regular rotator on my playlists.  It still had the hard-hitting groove of past songs, but with more danceable elements and electronic flourishes than I'd heard from them previously. 

On "Limbo", the duo continues in this direction--bringing in a disco-like chorus and a magnetism reminiscent of mainstream rock contemporaries like the Arctic Monkeys and Muse.  

The dance beat, paired with the helmeted motorcyclists in the video, also feels like a reference to the recently defunct Daft Punk.

It's a big, boisterous song with plenty of pedal effects, riffs and an undeniable hook.  Royal Blood have continued their trajectory, with enough creativity and energy for mass appeal.   Unlike the song's title, I'm not stuck in limbo on my feelings here -- I dig it.

You can watch the official YouTube video to Royal Blood's "Limbo" below.  The band's forthcoming album, Typhoons, is set for release at the end of the month on April 30th, 2021.  They have some super cool vinyl bundles and options available for preorder on the Royal Blood website.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Kurt Cobain and the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club

This past Monday, April 5th, marked the 27th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's (of Nirvana) tragic death.

It struck me that Cobain has now been gone for as long as he was alive, having passed at the young age of 27.  

The "27 Club" is a cultural phenomenon circulating around a number of famous musicians and celebrities who all died at 27--often related to drug use or suicide--including the likes of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.

For an all-too-brief moment in time, Nirvana ruled the music world, but Cobain's impact and legacy has carried on to a new generation.

Today, an organization known as Over The Bridge seeks to combat mental health in the music industry and to, "...empower musicians and to reclaim their lives from their mental health struggles."

Over the Bridge has been using artificial intelligence software to create what they're calling "The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club" -- a collection of new computer-generated songs that mimic beloved artists who have been lost prematurely.

For the new single, "Drowned in the Sun", the organization compiled multiple songs from Nirvana's catalog and used a computer algorithm to isolate hooks, rhythms, melodies and lyrics to generate brand new musical elements in Cobain's songwriting style.

It's quite eery to listen to.  While the song may not sound 100% like Nirvana, it does carry enough similarities to warrant a listen, and is truly an impressive accomplishment.  The song surprisingly rocks, and has been stuck in my head for the past few days.

The idea of computer programs learning from, and imitating, art is still a relatively new concept. Can you really replace the human aspect of songwriting and the emotion that goes into creating a great song?  It's true that much of pop music is formulaic--and legions of Nirvana-loving bands have attempted to capture the "loud, quiet, loud" dynamic that Cobain popularized 30 years ago.  

On Over The Bridge's website, they admit that, "...even AI will never replace the real thing."

What made Cobain's impact and legacy so great was how genuine, raw and cathartic his songwriting was. A whole generation of youth could relate to him and feel his pain.  His death, ruled as suicide, only propelled the existing myth surrounding him.  

There's long been a fascination with the the notion of the tortured genius, and the idea that some people's artistic ability is too much of a burden for them to live with.  But does great art only come from great suffering?  Is it fair to romanticize the struggles of mental health? 

Over The Bridge hopes use their album, The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, to "show the world what has been lost to this mental health crisis."

Take a listen to "Drowned in the Sun" below and let us know what you think.  

For more on Over The Bridge and to listen to more Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, Click Here.