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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).


Another NITS SET?

21 Feb

In a letter from E. Nitsfans were asked to compile a set of their favorite Nits tracks – 3 discs with 60 minutes each. Here’s mine:

NitsPix 1


  1. Yes Or No (Single Version) | “Nits” era 1977
  2. Looking For A Friend | “Nits” era 1978
  3. Some Other Night | “Tent” era 1979
  4. Hook Of Holland | “Tent” album 1979
  5. Office At Night | “New Flat” album 1980
  6. A Statue | “New Flat” album 1980
  7. Red Tape | “Work” album 1981
  8. Empty Room | “Work” album 1981
  9. Spirits Awake | “Omsk” album 1983
  10. A Touch Of Henry Moore | “Omsk” album 1983
  11. Nescio (Alternative Mix) | “Omsk” era 1983
  12. Sketches Of Spain | “Kilo” mini-album 1983
  13. Dapper Street | “Kilo” mini-album 1983
  14. Woman Cactus | “Adieu Sweet Bahnhof” album 1984
  15. Adieu, Sweet Bahnhof | “Adieu Sweet Bahnhof” album 1984
  16. Close Up The Honky Tonks | “Adieu Sweet Bahnhof” era 1984

NitsPix 2

BOY | From HENK to dAdAdA:

  1. Under A Canoe | “Henk” album 1986
  2. Home Before Dark | “Henk” album 1986
  3. Cabins | “Henk” album 1986
  4. House On House | “In The Dutch Mountains” era 1987
  5. Two Skaters | “In The Dutch Mountains” album 1987
  6. In The Dutch Mountains | “In The Dutch Mountains” album 1987
  7. The Train | “Hat” mini-album 1988
  8. Boy In A Tree | “Giant Normal Dwarf” album 1990
  9. Around The Fish | “Giant Normal Dwarf” album 1990
  10. Giant Normal Dwarf | “Giant Normal Dwarf” album 1990
  11. Fire In My Head | “Ting” album 1992
  12. Moved By Her | “Ting” era 1992
  13. Yellow Boat | “Ting” album 1992
  14. Sometime In Winter (Version) | “dAdAdA” era 1994
  15. Fishes | “dAdAdA” era 1994
  16. Dreams | “dAdAdA” album 1994

NitsPix 3


  1. Alankomaat | “Alankomaat” era 1998
  2. Three Sisters | “Alankomaat” album 1998
  3. Soul Man | “Alankomaat” album 1998
  4. The Strawberry Girl | “Wool” era 2000
  5. 26A (Clouds In The Sky) (Remix) | “Wool” era 2001
  6. Welcome Back | “1974” album 2003
  7. Chain Of Ifs | “1974” album 2003
  8. The Rising Sun | “Les Nuits” album 2005
  9. The Milkman | “Les Nuits” album 2005
  10. Five & Dime | “Doing The Dishes” album 2008
  11. In Dutch Fields | “Doing The Dishes” album 2008
  12. Departure | “Strawberry Wood” album 2009
  13. Jisp | “Strawberry Wood” album 2009
  14. Return | “Strawberry Wood” album 2009
  15. Schwebebahn | “Malpensa” album 2012
  16. Bad Government And Its Effects On Town And Country (Perquisite Mix) | “Malpensa” era 2012