Die Antwoord – Banana Brain

Woh, just got round to checking out the first single from Die Antwoord’s new record Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid – due out September 16. The main theme sounds like classic ’90s 2 Unlimited techno, only more serious, with a dark, writhing underbelly and Yolandi’s trademark hypnotic evil sweetness. And predictably, the production’s in-your-face aggressive, snarling right out of the speakers. Looking forward to the album.

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The Burger Chronicles #16 – Bleecker St., Southbank

bleecker st burger 2

There’s been a lot of buzz about Bleecker St.’s burgers in my small, tightly knit burger circles lately. One of my favourite Instagram food blogs, New York-based Devour Power, even added a Bleecker St. double cheeseburger to its must-do list of tasty London treats. And as I happened to find myself in Southbank the day I saw the mouthwatering post, I figured the stars had aligned.

The Bleecker St. container setup has grown since the last time I was under Hungerford Bridge. A wide food court and opposing bar container (with WAY overpriced beers) have been added, setting the joint up as more of an informal restaurant than a simple caravan burger by the Thames.

The line is intense and the crew is working hard to manage customers’ expectations. It looks like a neat operation, just way more of a mass production line than I’d imagined. I order a bacon cheeseburger and some fries and hang onto my vibrating pager for what feels like forever. When it finally lights up I head over to the counter and collect my burger and fries.

Instantly I’m shocked by how small it is. I see lettuce on some of the other burgers and ask if I can get a leaf. “We don’t put lettuce on cheeseburgers,” is the reply. But she takes the burger back and a slice of green is added anyway – anything to bulk it up a bit.

The burger doesn’t last long and my opinion’s made up just as quickly. The meat’s cooked perfectly and bursting with flavour. But the burger’s tiny; the “craft” burger equivalent of McDonald’s 99p cheeseburger. I mean, the bacon’s cooked just right, the onions taste great, but overall it’s just plain and instantly forgettable. Nothing special. Not made with any love or devotion.

And to top it off, the roll tastes cheap and inconsequential. Like a dry toasted sesame bun you’d buy in a plastic bag from Sainsbury’s. Really, whoever voted Bleecker St. London’s best burger for Time Out magazine in 2015 needs to get out more.

Five Guys

Magic Rock, Dark Arts Surreal Stout

magic rock dark arts 1

I don’t usually go for stout. But when I do, I generally like ’em – especially if there’s coffee involved. I guess I just have other priorities, or areas of interest. This time, however, I was informed that Magic Rock Brewing’s Dark Arts Surreal Stout is a collaboration with my favourite coffee roaster Dark Arts Coffee, and I actively went out looking for some.

I try a few different shops, in both Crouch End and Finsbury Park. And eventually I hit black gold, snagging the last two window display cans in Blackstock Road’s Arsenal Wines (not to be confused with Arsenal Food & Wine, which also has a good selection of beer).

Guess what, turns out the name’s just a coincidence. Still, the dark, velvety liquid oozes into the glass, filling it with the rich aroma of coffee and roasted malts. The light brown foamy topping completes the sumptuous picture of decadence.

magic rock dark arts

The taste is just as rich and resplendent. Bitter with hints of dark chocolate and liquorice, and according to the Magic Rock website, “blackberries and figs.” I feel sophisticated, like Don Draper swirling an old fashioned. Or as Ron Burgundy would say, “I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.”

Dark Arts is rich, spicy and extravagant, and loaded with flavour – the result of Magic Rocks’ combination of four different malts and loads of “whole hops.” There’s a refreshing lingering bitterness too, that cuts through the malty brew, converting you to the dark side.

magic rock dark arts

London-by-Zee 5 – Big Scream: Finding Dory

Finding dory

I’d been to one of Crouch End Picturehouse’s Big Scream shows before, with my wife and then-three-month-old daughter Zara. But today, flying solo with a now 11-month-old Zara for Big Scream’s presentation of Pixar and Disney’s Finding Dory, was a whole new kettle of animated fish.

It’s a short bus ride to the picturehouse and Zara loves the view from upstairs. The bus is pretty empty and before I know it I’m looking enviably at the cinema’s tasty looking selection of booze and craft beer. Just a flat white for me, thanks. I’m on duty.

The thing that bums me out about these kind of adventures is the different world’s Zara and I live in. To her, everyone’s a potential friend and she tries her hardest to make eye contact and make people smile. To me, a brown-skinned dad in a world of clicky, understandably suspicious moms, my parallel universe can be pretty alienating at times.

A couple walks by carrying their tiny newborn baby in a car seat, grandmother in tow. Grandmother looks at me with a patronizing, skeptical sideways glance. I smile at Zara and carry on regardless.

The moviehouse is pretty empty but we got a seat near the front. We set up, and encouragingly, Zara sits on my lap, captivated by the blaring screen. Maybe this could be easier than I thought. Last time she was oblivious to what was going on, other than the noise. This time she’s totally into it. Then the trailers and adverts roll on for what feels like forever.

It’s disgusting, really. The whole show is for parents, carers and babies. But the ads and trailers are just as relentless as always. And sure enough, Zara’s attention starts to wane and she gets fidgety. Then, finally, it’s Finding Dory time. No wait, there’s just enough time to squeeze in a last-minute Volkswagen ad, between the Finding Dory certificate screen and the actual movie. Then there’s the token Pixar pre-movie short. Come on already.

Luckily, Zara’s sucked straight into Disney’s colourful underwater world. Both of us haven’t seen the original film, but I’m guessing it’s not as complex as Game of Thrones. I’m sure we’ll pick it up.

Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, it soon becomes clear that Dory, a blue tang fish, suffers from short-term memory loss – which had a fin in her being separated from her parents when she was a baby. Suddenly, Dory has a flashback, remembers she had parents and decides to head out on a quest to find them at the Jewel of Morro Bay – the only detail she can remember for now.

Of course, Dory is joined by Nemo and his dad Marlon – imagine the missed merchandising opportunities if she wasn’t. But before they leave, there’s an odd musical interlude about migration, featuring a bunch of rays singing a jolly song about “going home.” In today’s climate, it’s hard not to see the number as a not-so-subtle message on immigration, and immigrants returning to “where they came from.” Odd…

Anyway, as you’d expect, the story’s filled with wacky characters, sentimental moments and fishy jokes like “holy carp.” And eventually, Dory’s short-term memory loss turns out to be her biggest strength; “what would Dory do?”

After an animated film, it’s always fun to see if I guessed any of the voice actors right. Ellen was easy. And I also managed to spot Eugene Levy as Dory’s dad Charlie and Albert Brooks as Marlon. Quite a few I didn’t pick up on, though; Ed O’Neill as Hank the cranky-yet-lovable red octopus – a rookie mistake, as that describes just about every role he’s ever played. Idris Elba as Fluke the sea lion. Diane Keaton as Dory’s mother Jenny. And Ty Burell as Bailey the beluga whale.

One I really wish I’d known beforehand was Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson as Destiny the near-sighted whale shark. Didn’t get that one either. Interestingly, Nemo’s voiced by newcomer Hayden Rolence, who didn’t play the world’s most famous clownfish in the original film. But a much-deeper-voiced Gould does make a cameo appearance as Carl the truck driver.

After the film there’s a long queue of moms and prams vying for the baby change room. I decide to head up the stairs and find two more bathrooms with change facilities. Impressively, one of them’s in the men’s toilet. I manage to distract a now cranky Zara with my bank card holder and get her in a fresh nappy for the trip home. For the 70% of the movie she was watching and in a good mood, it was awesome. She just sat on my lap, leaned back on my chest and watched. And all in all, a great morning out.

Stranger Things – Delicious ’80s Intro Sequence

I just started watching Netflix’s latest original show Stranger Things, and instantly, I was taken back to a simpler time, when sci-fi horrors had heart and kids on BMXs saved the day – and good guys (and girls) smoked cigarettes.

So far, the Duffer brothers’ labour of love is rekindling that classic ’80s Goonies and Gremlins heartfelt nostalgia totally missing from the world, with a perfect dose of Poltergeist creepy – like Super 8, only much, much better. Really, it’s an adventure pulsing with the kind of feelings I’d hoped Wayward Pines and Hemlock Grove (what a piece of shit!) might latch onto.

It’s all in the attention to detail. For example, the intro sequence, by LA and New York-based creative studio Imaginary Forces, is a thing of sheer beauty – like an old Stephen King movie intro. And the music, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, from cult Austin, Texas synth band S U R V I V E, is pure genius. The perfect backdrop to complete the unexpected timehop.

Expect a full review when I’m done…

White Lung – Paradise (Domino)

white-lung-paradise-album-new

White Lung – Paradise
Domino (2016)

White Lung’s new album Paradise has been lurking on my Spotify playlist for weeks now, and every time I listen I’m sucked right back down the rabbit hole. Guitarist Kenneth William’s ultra-creative punk rock doodling steals the show, really, swinging schizophrenically from progressive slaps in the face to hair-tingling noodles and complex indie rhythms. But somehow, the hip Canadian punks’ fourth album washes over like a smooth wave of glossy pop punk cohesion.

Perhaps it’s the treatment on Mish Way’s lead vocals that keeps things so steady, dream-like and detached. She almost sounds too consistent, like an angrier Karen O, and I often found myself wishing for a more natural rawness to her voice that might have grabbed my attention sooner. She definitely has a lot to say, and her lyrics are smart, topical and thought-provoking. Vicious yet unwavering.

Still, Paradise is a powerful, uncompromising and intelligent trip that I find myself coming back to again and again. It’s provocative; edgy and raw, yet smooth, washy and sophisticated at the same time. Guitars at the forefront, pounding drums that never really step on any toes, the occasional distorted bass forray and dreamy female vocals that snarl wittily beneath it all.

Blink-182 – California (BMG)

blink 182 california d face
Blink-182 – California
BMG (2016)

The Blink-182 machine’s back in full-swing and coming to a stadium near you. Former guitarist and founding member Tom DeLonge thought they couldn’t go on without him. Big mistake; Blink’s new album California, their first since 2011’s hit-or-miss Neighborhoods, just replaced Drake’s Views’ as the number one album on Billboard’s Top 200 list. Making it Blink’s first Billboard Top 200 number one since 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

As far as the album goes, I wanted to love it. I grew up listening to Blink and new guitarist Matt Skiba’s band Alkaline Trio. And the involvement of producer John Feldmann, who fronts punk-ska legends Goldfinger and pretty much introduced the world to The Used, added an extra air of excitement. Here we go.

Things start well with up-tempo punk rock anthem “Cynical,” which definitely sounds like it could be about Tom. The song reminds me a lot of NOFX classic “Linoleum” – which is a good thing. And Skiba’s backups sound incredible. In fact, it’s probably the best he’s ever sounded, which adds even more emotion to his anti-apologetic “Not sorry… I’m not sorry” lament – perhaps a tongue-in-cheek play on Blink’s 1997 song “I’m sorry.”

Mega-single “Bored to Death” is a classic new-Blink singalong that highlights Feldmann’s work perfectly. The production is unreal. I just wish they’d skipped the second breakdown. Gets me every time.

“She’s Out of Her Mind” kicks off like classic Enema of the State-era Blink. And the girl in the song sounds like someone Skiba must have dated; “…black shirt, black skirt and Bauhaus stuck in her head.” Maybe she should hook up with Rancid’s “Time Bomb” dude. Again, Skiba’s verse sounds potent and alive. Mark’s voice is classic, loveable Blink, but so far Skiba’s stealing the show. Travis, of course, is next level – his drumming could make James Blunt interesting.

“Los Angeles” is easily the worst song on the album. It sounds like they picked it up off the Linkin Park cutting room floor, complete with cheesy early 2000s riffs and vocal effects.

After that California picks up but doesn’t regain the momentum it had before the derailment. Co-written by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, “Sober” is pretty good. “No Future” is terrible; what a weak chorus – have they not heard Offspring’s “The Kids Aren’t All Right”? And hopefully Mark’s “life won’t wait” lyric is a reference to Rancid’s 1998 album of the same name.

Track nine “Kings of the Weekend” brings things to the boil again. And “Teenage Satellites” keeps the good times rolling. The rest of the album’s pretty solid, but definitely could have done with some pruning – especially when it comes to title track “California,” which reminds me of The Used, without Bert McCracken.

“Rabbit Hole” is probably my favourite song overall, especially lyrically. Mark sounds pumped. “San Diego” is very Alkaline Trio-like. “The Only Thing That Matters” name-checks Skiba’s Marilyn Manson paintings. And then 30-second closer “Brohemian Rhapsody” gives the Tom squad a taste of what they’ve been crying out for, before its premature end. Sorry, folks.

Blink with Skiba was always going to be different. But in many ways, California sounds more “classic Blink” than Neighborhoods ever did. The production’s mental, it’s got its heart on its sleeve, and it’s sentimental and sincere. But it’s also overweight with a few cringe moments – “She’s not complicated… ated… ated at all” – and cutting a few tracks would definitely have tightened the experience. Then again, according to Mark they recorded around fifty songs, so stay tuned for the deluxe version, with commentary. Interestingly, Feldmann is credited ahead of Skiba on the album’s writing credits.

London-by-Zee 4 – Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street

20 fenchurch street, the walkie talkie

Staring up at it from underneath, with my hand touching its imposing, futuristic frame, 20 Fenchurch Street – aka The Walkie Talkie – bulges out like an impossibly warped cartoon. It’s unreal. The front of the building actually seems to lean out and hang over you like a wave of blue glass. The white beams on its side are like twisting water slides touching the sky. And the top has a Sky Garden lookout point that’s free and open to the public – as long as you book two weeks in advance. Let’s go!

sky garden, fenchurch street

At ground level, the Sky Garden lobby looks like an all-white customs terminal, complete with beautiful smiling women in Emirates Airline-style dresses and stern security faces checking bags with plastic trays. The crowd builds steadily, as well-planned tourists with backpacks seemingly join the queue straight from the airport.

Things move pretty swiftly, though, and we’re soon ushered to a swanky lift door – and before we know it we’re on the 35th floor! Wait, did I miss something? The whole trip took seconds, and I can only imagine how fast we were actually travelling. A mate of mine lives on the 15th floor in Shoreditch, and his lift groans and gurns all the way up like a clanging old dinosaur. This was like Willy Wonka’s glass elevator.

view of the thames from the sky garden roof

Stepping out and around the corner, the view is breathtaking. The layout at the top is a lot like the lobby, and reminds me of Dubai International Airport; glass, steel and soulless with a bright blue skyline. There’s a posh-looking cafe in the middle of the hall, uncomfortable-looking IKEA couches scattered around the edges and massive-looking leftover meringues piled up on plates. We step out on to the balcony and take in our surroundings. Wow, my legs turn into jelly.

As usual, the first thing that grabs your attention is The Shard. And to be honest, the view is even more impressive than the one from the other side. The View from the Shard’s almost twice as high, and things feel much further away. The landmarks are tiny and – most importantly – your photos don’t look as good. The Sky Garden, on the other hand, is the perfect height; you’re high above enough London to gasp and breathe it all in, but not so far away that you’re looking down on a city for ants.

view of the thames from the sky garden roof terrace

sky garden

Zara seems spellbound by her lofted take on things. She stares at the view with a look of wonder and amazement on her face. And I wonder what’s going on inside her head. How does this all make sense? Two seconds ago we were on the ground, way down there, and now we’re in the clouds.

Eventually, when we can drag ourselves away, we head up the stairs and take in the rest of the view – but nothing compares to the lump you get in your throat stepping out on to the balcony for the first time.

the sky garden, walkie talkie, fenchurch street

The actual “garden” is much less impressive, and feels more like an underwhelming add-on collection of neatly potted plants than the lush, botanic jungle in the sky we were expecting. Still, it’s a great morning that Zara really seems to get a kick out of.

leadenhall market roof

We head back down to Earth, breeze through Leadenhall Market and end up walking across Tower Bridge, before hopping on a bus and heading back home for a snooze, to digest our morning of sensory overload.