Friday, June 29, 2007

Recently Played: Blonde Redhead

Earlier this spring, back in Seattle, we bought tickets to see the Junior Boys, both being huge fans of their last album, So This Is Goodbye. Blonde Redhead had a show scheduled for the Showbox, but when we went to buy those tickets we realized it was on the same night as the Junior Boys show. Luckily, Kelly's diligent research uncovered a Köln stop later on in the tour. That show was last night.

The end of a busy day, it was an excellent show. But then, Blonde Redhead are one of the best live bands around, so why wouldn't it be? They were already playing when we arrived, but continued to play for another 75 minutes, with two encores. If I'm not mistaken, all selections were culled from their three most recent albums. Speaking of which, their newest album, 23, is really incredible. I don't mean that in the this-band-is-always-good-and-this-album's-no-different way. I mean, its one of their best albums. Hey, what the heck, here are two of the album's highlights.


Doesn't that second track sound like it be in The Neverending Story or something? Anyway, unlike most Seattle shows, this one was over and done with well before midnight, so we were tucked in and asleep at a decent hour. As for the crowd, we kept checking for familiar faces. Looked and acted like a typical Seattle crowd - heavy on beard, light on faux-hawk.

Oh and what the heck, here's a noisier Blonde Redhead circa 1995, just to round things out.

(I Am Taking Out My Eurotrash) I Still Get Rocks Off

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tomorrow We Move

Already we are face to face with the end of our first month here. This means that we must say goodbye to our Lindenthaler ground-floor apartment, with its patio and its adorable backyard and its ten-minute walk to the university. Tomorrow evening a taxi will move us and all our junk south to the Marienburg neighborhood. We haven't seen the new place yet, but I'm sure it'll meet our needs just fine. Like the place we called home this month, it is a University guest house, and presumably comparable in quality. The major adjustment will be the twenty to thirty-minute commute to campus by bus, but on the flipside the new place is very near the Rhine, and at least fifty euros cheaper per month than our current place. So more money for Apple Schorle.... But even this new place is temporary. In September we settle into long-term digs just off Zulpicherstrasse, situated closest of the three to the university, and cheapest in terms of rent. Kelly has seen pictures of the September place, and reports that it has a deck and looks nice.

Recently Played: The Jesus & Mary Chain

Just so you don't think that I only listen to techno anymore, here's a song I didn't get from Kompakt, but which I've found myself listening to a lot lately. This is from 1985's terrific Psychocandy album, which also features their better-known “Just Like Candy.” Anyway, “My Little Underground” is a catchy, sweet tune backed by layers of garage guitar and buzzsaw distortion.

My Little Underground

I wasn't in high school in '85 but, despite those haircuts, this album still had some cachet ten years later when I was. Or at least I thought it did. Accordingly, I considered doing up some high school music flashback thing here. The Smiths, My Bloody Valentine – all that 120 Minutes stuff that carried so many of us through adolescence. But then I thought about the unavoidable lameness of the ubiquitous 29-year-old guy romanticizing the shyest, loneliest and most awkward years of his life routine. I've heard that story and read that indie-press comic plenty of times already. I can safely say I've told that story a few times myself. So dull. Disingenuous, what's more (I did, after all, have a Candlebox CD somewhere along the line). What is this alleged transcendent magic of the soundtrack to alienation? How is it that, simply because I discovered some exciting records in the Used bin, I'm supposed to slap some glossy veneer on years I wouldn't relive for all the Sonic Youth bootlegs in Italy?

I mean, sure, I could tell stories of times when, reaching for my geometry book, Melanie would appear - or Jenna, or Tiffany - leaning a shoulder on the unsteady door of my open locker. “That tape you made me is amazing,” she'd say. “I told Diane you could prolly make her one sometime.” “Yeah. OK,” I'd say vaguely, not yet fully awake. “I was telling her about that one Kicking Giant song at cheer practice yesterday,” she'd say. “Do you think you could put that one on it?” “I almost always do,” I'd shrug. “She'll like that,” she'd say, nodding carefully. “Oh, and put 'Is This Real' on too. Michelle spent the night Saturday, and we kept rewinding it and listening to that song over and over. It was so funny. Anyway, I better scoot if I don't wanna be tardy for Chemistry. Are you going anywhere for lunch? Cause we're going to Arby's, and maybe you could tell me about why Richard Hell got kicked outta Television?” “Sure,” I'd say. “Maybe I'll see you then.” And then she'd rock slowly toward Chemistry, clutching her Trapper Keeper closely to her stomach. I'd brush a few long hairs free from a rough edge of the locker door – a smell of peach-scented conditioner as they drifted to the linoleum floor - before tapping it shut and heading off to Math. But I cringe just thinking about those times, and I honestly don't see the point of recounting my boringly average high school trials, wearing like a badge all those years of degrading humiliation. I mean, seriously, who needs that?

Where To Find English-Language Books in Cologne/Köln

As many back in Seattle can attest, a major worry of mine has been the availability of English-language literature in Köln. I already brought over about 35lbs. worth of books in my luggage, but I've been trying to stake out ways to meet future literary needs. There was nothing in the neighborhood bookstores., it turnes out, won't ship to Germany. ships here, but when I factored in the exchange rate and hefty VAT taxes, it looked like an awfully expensive option.

This week, however, revealed some solutions. I didn't find much information on the internet on this matter, so I post this in hopes that perhaps some desperate English-language reader relocating to Köln might Google his or her way here and save themselves some anxiety. I can't imagine why our family and friends would really care to read about where I shop for books.

There are two large chain booksellers near the Neumarkt station that have modest foreign-language sections. There isn't a whole lot available in these sections that wasn't originally written in English, and even then the selection is limited mainly to popular and classic fiction (and one hilariously had a section titled “Chick Lit”). Really not a whole lot here that isn't also in the public library, but some of the classic lit stuff is quite affordable. Penguin has a line in the UK of budget paperbacks by authors in the Jane Austen, James Joyce, and Herman Melville caliber. They're printed on cheap paper with basic green covers, and sell here for about EU 3,20. I kinda dig 'em.

Even better, on Tuesday I happened upon a shop sandwiched between two record stores called English Books & Tea, a stones throw from the Hansaring U-Bahn station. Much as the name would have you believe, they specialize in English-language reading and serve tea. The staff are very outgoing, and they appear to have gathered something of an English lit community, with reading groups, writing groups, etc. Certainly there was no shortage of English-speaking traffic passing through the shop during the quarter-hour I spent there. A small store, there isn't an enormous collection to choose from, but they take special orders. Unbelievably, they tell me that the cost of specially ordered books shouldn't really be any higher than the US or UK retail price.

Macintosh Misadventures

The shiny white rectangles in our life turned on us during the past two weeks. First, Kelly updated her iTunes software, mysteriously resulting in the deletion of her computer's entire music library. Then, the wires inside the power cable for Kelly's Mac began to slowly burn through the plastic casing, which was both unsightly and stinky. In short order it was all but unusable, and anyway seemed like a fire hazard. Then yesterday, my iPod broke my fragile heart. The sound blinks in and out of the right ear of my headphones, and I'm pretty sure the problem lies with the headphone jack, and not with the headphones themselves.

Like something out of an especially pointed J-horror movie, no? Or worse, the opening paragraph of one of those numerous and predictable articles about our dehumanizing addictions to the conveniences afforded us by consumer technology (usually posted in constantly updated web magazines that you can upload directly to your PDA or SmartPhone with a simple subscription). So who knows, maybe we'll learn how rich and fulfilling our lives can be without access to the internet or an impractically large collection of mp3s. Or, maybe, the ghost of Sam Cooke is trying to crawl out of our electronic hardware to clear up the more dubious details of his death. Not liking the sound of either of these possibilities, we did what we could to patch things up.

The first problem proved little more than an aggravation. Kelly's iPod still contained pretty much all the music she wanted, and we have an external hard drive on which we'd backed up quite a bit. Still, we managed to lose David Bowie's Low in the ordeal. (We have it on vinyl and CD – but in Seattle.)

Melting cord, it turns out, is a common ailment. Apple will replace it for free if your equipment's under warranty. Ah, but Kelly's computer is no longer under warranty! Foiled again. Helpless without it, we bought a new power cord. Money we'd have preferred not to spend (especially since its twice as expensive here than in the US), but problem solved.

As for my iPod, I dunno if anything can be done about that. Probably I'll wait to deal with it til I'm back in Seattle in a couple weeks. I've had it for more than a year, though, so I may just be out of luck. In the meantime, the songs of birds will have to suffice when I step out into the world each day. But I kinda doubt they know anything by the Undertones.

Recently Played: Kangding Ray.

This was the other great find of my aforementioned Kompakt trip. Credited to a Kangding Ray, Stabil is a recent release from the austere geniuses at Raster Noton, and sits neatly beside the Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto collaborations, although it isn't quite as, I dunno, stately. The friendly guy who rang up my purchase boasted no less than timelessness for it. I certainly hope he's right; as it stands, this is the one and only compact disc I have here in Köln, and good grief, how else is one to advertise his personal qualities if not through the prominent display of carefully chosen CDs?


Speaking of Raster Noton, I noticed that there's a new record out by Frank Bretschneider (aka Komet), and the samples I streamed online sounded promising. Hopefully I can pick it up in the near future. Even better, maybe it'll turn up one Emusic.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Scorecard – Seattle vs. Köln (or more generally America vs. Germany)

This will probably become an on-going list, mostly to tell you about some of the funny (or smart) things they do in Germany and Europe in general. Here is the first installment:

Toilets: Seattle.
Let's get this out of the way as quickly as possible. Germans can actually halt the flush on their toilets, which is an excellent way to save water. But really no other aspect of their standard toilet design fails to baffle. More cannot be said on this matter without potentially spoiling, well, the rest of your life. Suffice it to say that it is a continual annoyance.

Drinking Water: Tie.
Although we're told that some people do – scandalously - drink tap water in Köln, we've been resigned to buy our water in 1.5 liter bottles. It isn't very expensive (about EU 0,19 per bottle), except that there's an additional EU 0,25 bottle deposit. That and the gruntwork of awkwardly walking the plastic-wrapped six-pack home. We've seen no evidence that water delivery (think Sparkletts) is used much here. Entrepreneurial readers take note: that market is wide open. So these don't really sound like good things, I know, so why the tie? Because we can round up our empties and feed them into what amounts to a vending machine in reverse, and usually get back enough scrilla for lunch. Yes, its money we've already paid, but there's something mindlessly empowering about the alchemical feeling of turning garbage into, say, pre-sliced Dutch cheese, or a smoked trout, or several bottles of Franziskaner. Oh yeah, that reminds me, beer bottles work the same way. Some grocery stores don't have the machines, and manually accept them at the checkout counter. Before we realized this, Chris was convinced that the checkers were nursing half-liter bottles of Bitburger while they worked.

Parks: Köln.
I've always thought, and still think, that Seattle is rich with beautiful parks. However, Köln has more parks, bigger parks, and probably more beautiful and impressive parks. They may be taken for granted as lunchbreak tanning fields, but hey, they've got lakes and herons and rabbits and fish and things. Dogs are offleash throughout, but they unexpectedly don't act like drunken escaped convicts. We haven't yet been sniffed or pounced on by overeager pets. The parks are so vast that one can easily get lost, which has already happened to Kelly (thankfully only once), easily doubling the length of her morning run.

Porn: Seattle.
Say what you want about America's uneasy relationship with the printed image. However, on my way to catch a 7am train, did I really need to see lifesize reproductions of Courtney Love's nipples? I didn't.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Embracing Skinny Jeans

Earlier this spring I decided to see what the whole skinny jean craze was about. In the comfortable confines of a hipster-neutral Gap I tried on my first pair. This first pair was a little too small and I suddenly had a flashback of being an 11-year-old girl in a Bellevue Square dressing room trying to find a pair of skinny, ankle-zippered jeans that would fit me, but by the time they fit around my waist they were 7 inches too long. The second pair at the Gap did fit, but I didn't think I could pull them off (figuratively speaking). Fast forward to the H&M in Belgium, where I gave it another shot. After a week of contemplating the thought of owning such, I was sold and dragging Chris down the busy shopping street in Köln, weaving in and out of every other Saturday shopper. After hitting up the four H&M's, I finally found the perfect pair (had to find the correct dye job). The Sqin jeans and a cute dress I had also found in Belgium, but not in the right size, were very appreciated birthday gifts from Chris (of course finding them both at the same H&M store would have been way too easy).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Recently Played: Famous When Dead V.

Electronic label Playhouse recently put out their newest Famous When Dead compilation. This was one of the finds of my first trip to Kompakt since our arrival. There's a terrific track by MyMy, but to my mind, the highlight is a shelved track from the ever-reliable Isolée. Reading me try to describe techno will get us precisely nowhere, so I'll simply say that it's kind of a banger, and post it for your listening pleasure.

Isolée - The Jacko Theme

Our Trip to Leuven, Belgium – June 16-17

After a slightly rocky start (Kelly set the alarm for 5:50 pm instead of am) we arrived in Leuven only two hours later than planned. That was a little after 1 pm, which still gave us plenty of time to see the city (ie go to an H&M and find the Leffe Cafe for some lunch). The highlight of the trip was Die Blauwe Kater, which we visited Saturday evening after exploring the city, and where we foolishly did not try the 10 euro glass of Westvleteren beer (because it was 10 euros) but have now later found it is pretty much impossible to get and not technically kosher to serve in a bar. We did though enjoy some St Bernardus Abt 12, Rocheforte 10 and the popular favorite Tripel Karmeliet (to name a few). Although we're still reeling from the tragedy of having missed an apparently legendary beer, the Rocheforte 10 was surely an excellent find. We also played some cards. Kelly won all the Rummy games, and Chris more or less dominated in Cribbage.

Settling In

Our first few days in Köln and our first apartment here. This is our nice patio, temporarily furnished with the living room chairs.