Angst

29 Oct

“What is this shit?” Greil Marcus’ famous reaction to Bob Dylan’s “Self Portrait” is a good indicator whether a new album has the potential for repeated listening pleasure. Especially when it’s prompted by a new Nits album.

Dutch combo The Nits – known around here as the best band in the world, no less – got together in 1974 and currently consist of founding members Henk Hofstede (vocals, guitar) and Rob Kloet (percussion, vocals), together with Robert Jan Stips (keyboards, vocals) who joined in 1981 and had previously played with Supersister and Golden Earring.

“What is this – ting?!” was the question asked when their 1992 album “TING” was released. Following a Europe-wide top ten hit, a successful theatre tour and a lush psychedelic album, here the band was stripped down to just piano, voice and percussion (including the singing stones of Swiss artist Fritz Hauser), performing chamber music-like snapshots with minimalistic lyrics about empty landscapes, cars (and cars) and melancholia. Plus a bopping little pop song about Joseph Cornell. Of course.

“Now what is this!!” would be the initial reaction to later albums like “Wool” from 2000 (a stunning collection of meticulously arranged songs, performed with brass and a string section: here the Nits sound like the backing band that Leonard Cohen never had…) or “Les Nuits” from 2005 (an album with a song suite about a violent attack and its implications on the neighborhood and the folks living there), which wouldn’t sound out of place with the likes of Radiohead, John Grant or Wilco.

“Angst! What is it?” And now here’s their 21st studio album, called “Angst“. After several records where they – more or less – played it straight, the Nits again slim down: the set-up this time is voice + keyboards + percussion, augmented here and there with a bit of dulcimer and strings. What we get isn’t “Ting”-like minimalism, but an adventurous, rich sound of the “shirt is waving in the meadow” variety, more often than not resembling the soundtrack to a David Lynch movie about Chopin. Parts of the album were apparently inspired by the memories of Henk’s mother about the dark times of the German occupation in the Netherlands during WW2, and the music certainly adds to the pointillistic, often surreal lyrics with hazily emerging counter-melodies, sudden twists and turns, and surprising arrangement ideas, all adding up to a weirdly compelling audio film. And it wouldn’t be the Nits without a treasure trove of harmonies, middle-eights and chord changes to make any Beatles fan weep with delight.

This record – whether on CD or as an old-fashioned LP – is (as usual with this band) beautifully packaged, and you shouldn’t listen to it on your telephone: find your coat, grab your hat, go to a record store (or a Nits concert), buy it and take it home – where it belongs.

Album of the year (sorry, Steven).

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Battleground Korea News

22 Oct

Source: Coming Soon

Coming soon

29 Sep

Several projects we’ve been working on are at the manufacturing stage now and will be available soon.

From Bear Family Records there’s a (typically massive) box set with 20 CDs about the Louisiana Hayride. The first samples arrived earlier this week:

And here’s a preview of the 224-page book!

Just out on Bear Family is the magnificent Woody Guthrie set – which was presented at a show in Berlin recently, co-hosted by Bear Family, Woody Guthrie Publications and the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease.

Later this year Ruf Records will release the long-awaited Luther Allison box (two boxes, actually: it comes as a CD set and a 180g vinyl LP set, both including a hardcover book and four DVDs with live recordings). This will include 7 original albums, newly remastered by Pauler Acoustics – several of these titles haven’t been available on CD and/or vinyl previously. Also, in the vinyl box three of these titles come as gatefold double-LPs. The hardcover book features liner notes by Art Tipaldi, a complete Luther Allison discography, memories and dedications from Luther’s friends and fellow musicians, and lots of pictures and memorabilia from the Luther Allison archives. Here are some sample pages:

What’s Cookin’

28 Sep

A big box just arrived with stuff from the Lefty Frizell archives:

For the new edition of the legendary Bear Family box (which will feature 14 additional hours of audio content…!) this has to be checked, catalogued and (most of it) scanned and restored. The new hardcover book will be massive!

Good timing – as we’ve just finished work on two Luther Allison boxes for Ruf Records, and several big sets for Be Records and Bear Family (more later).

Here’s Woody

31 Jul

The first copies have just arrived from the printers – here’s a look at the new Woody Guthrie set from Bear Family:

The set collects the recordings (feat. 20 previously unissued tracks) from the two Tribute Concerts at the Carnegie Hall in 1968 and at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970 and includes two hardcover books: one is packed with photos from the concerts (by Jim Marshall and David Gahr) and rehearsals/soundchecks, plus essays focusing on several aspects of Woody’s life and work. And of course a proper Bear Family set wouldn’t be complete without hundreds of illustrations – albums of Woody Guthrie’s music from around the world, covers of foreign editions of his books, as well as rare pictures from the Guthry Family archives.

The second book is a reprint of the “TRO Tribute Songbook” featuring lyrics and musical notation of most of the songs performed at the concerts. And even if you think you know Woody’s songs by heart, here’s your chance to discover brilliantly magic lines like

“In the misty crystal glitter of that wild and windward spray…”

Tales From Noise (Part 2: Vicious Circle)

17 Jul

In our job as “creative consultants” at Noise Records we sometimes got detailed instructions for the record covers from the musicians themselves – usually when a mini-LP was planned. Here’s an example of the creative input from the band. This colourful drawing landed on our desk in September 1984:

It came with an “explanation”: “Lightning strikes into the devil’s horn. The devil glows. Lightning is diverted through the devil’s tail and discharges into an explosion. The band logo has to look metallic, like steel, you know…”

As we were too lazy to make a flashy airbrush painting (and Karl “you guys will be my ruin someday” the label boss wouldn’t pay for it) we proposed a comic-style drawing – it was the time of magazines like “Metal Hurlant” and “Heavy Metal”, after all. And we had a few entertaining days digging out some old Jack Kirby comic books.

So this is what hit the shops in fall that year – in a glorious, glossy 12-inch sleeve:

Tales From Noise (Part 1: Kreator)

15 Jul

In the mid-80s we were working for Modern Music, a record label in Berlin. Apart from designing the covers for their “Diadem” releases we did a lot of stuff for their heavy metal label, Noise Records. As the covers were mostly painted by a guy called Lawvere, we were only involved at the printing stage – we had to make sure that the bass player’s scribbles for the inner sleeve were printable, and sleeve notes (usually six sheets of bad handwriting) were submitted for typesetting with instructions about the correct size and font (usually something gothic or “germanic”).

In April 1985 Karl the label boss (“they all want 1500!”) sent us a sketch for a logo from a young band from Essen.

They weren’t sure about their new name at this point (they were still called “Tormentor”), but Karl suggested we design something “like Iron Maiden”. He also decided spelling the name with a “K”.

Several suggestions, more sketches from the drummer, and a couple of mock-ups followed, until a final decision was made:

Apart from producing a printer-friendly line drawing (done with our trusty Rotring pens on thick artboards from Scotland) our biggest contribution to the Kreator logo probably was that we could convince the Noise guys to forget about “steel finish”, dripping blood, and their usual 3-D and airbrush effects – it was supposed to be a classic “trademark” that could be used in any colour and appearance. Luckily the band was quite good and successful, and they’re still using the logo nowadays, three decades later.

The logo was first shown on their debut album, which of course came with a Lawvere cover. The album title was decided at the last minute (by Karl, naturally), and we had to produce a line drawing of the phrase “Endless Pain” while a bicycle courier on his way to the printers was waiting in our studio.

Here’s the original LP cover, and Phil Lawvere’s painting in full:

Kreator’s Noise albums have just been reissued on CD.