There are at least four great songs in 1st LP. Rails And Rain is a perfect opening number, just like Radio Shoes, Bike In Head, dA dA dA or The Train. It sets a fine tone for the whole set of songs. Deep pop!
Fantasies And Factories is a near-masterpiece, piano-leading ballad without any dangers to slip into billyjoelisms. Henk sings it wonderfully; the chorus and chord structures are very interesting.
Amarilla is a beautifully written love song with slightly mystic tones. Great Rhodes piano floating here and there.
Then there's Yes Or No, which is a kind of tribute to the Beatles' Hello Goodbye. A classic pop composition.
--- Of course it's quite easy to see why the Nits don't want to release the album as a CD. The sound is not the Nits sound familiar to us, it's more "commercial". The band seemingly hasn't got very much studio experience, as they don't sound very tight unit. Bass lines are nice (Roelofs?) and Peters plays some great guitar parts, but Rob's not in his best mood. It's almost funny to hear the Nits toying with funky rhythms on two of the tracks, Mister Mister and Dancing Girl - Red Cat...
The first version of Tutti Ragazzi can also be found on the album, and it really shows how much better they will get within one year.
(From Suonna Kononen)
But if we regard this as a typical synth-pop album from 1979, how is it? Not bad. Synth-pop albums are often fairly inoffensive, unless they are too sleazy, and Tent isn't. The songs are quite catchy and exemplary short. And the lyrics are witty. In fact, if we are talking lyrics, we have no problem to recognize The Nits from their later works; here they had already found their own way, with small stories, atmospheric descriptions about various topics, often with a humouristic slant.
Hat is a more consistently mellow album than some of the other which mix spectacular numbers with simpler ones. The funny thing is that the tracks I like the most are Blue and Hat which are not on Urk. And The Bauhaus Chair of course, a lovely little harmonic piece. The album opens with The Train which I think was a hit of some sort, but if The Nits only have been making songs like The Train I wouldn't be crazy about them. It's the weakest tune on Hat. So if you heard The Train and said: nah, that's nothing special, you should make another sample.
Evidently a thousand or so copies of an LP entitled The Nits were pressed prior to their CBS signing, an achievement apparently best for gotten. That's only marginally less true of their first three CBS outings. Comparisons to tongue-in-cheek pop synthesists like 10cc and fellow Dutchmen Gruppo Sportivo immediately come to mind, but leave the Nits on the short end of the stick - too cute, not clever enough by half and too sterile, especially on Tent. Arty touches provide welcome contrasts here and there on New Flat, and a melody or two does catch the ear. Work attempts to up the Serious Artistic Expression ante but the music rarely can carry the lyrical weight. Still, at points on both New Flat and Work, Hans Hofstede reveals a growing aptitude for creating little emotional postcards.
Omsk and Kilo show the Nits beginning to find their voices; it must be at least partly attributed to the arrival of keyboardist Robert Jan Stips. Previously known for his work with Golden Earring and for producing Gruppo Sportivo albums, he oversaw part of Tent and all of New Flat. His own LP U.P. is a curious blend of pop-rock and jazz syncopations, in a unique style that starts out intriguing but turns irritating. All the same, he does bolster the Nits' brighter, poppier side and shades the darker, moodier aspect most often explored by Hofstede. On Omsk and Kilo, Hofstede unveils a mild resemblance to Elvis Costello (but dreamier, more vulnerable, less venomous); Stips' dominant keyboards make for settings that are affecting, even haunting.
Adieu, Sweet Bahnhof reflects the group's odd international sensibility. None of the Nits' lyrics have ever been in Dutch; a song on the LP which refers to Holland is sung half in English, half in Turkish. Is there some national inferiority complex at work here? In any case, the record is more musically confident and aggressive, yet less affecting, than its immediate predecessors. There are still clumsy phrasings and syntactical mistakes (in songs by Stips and Michiel Peters, not Hofstede), which would be more easily forgiven/ignored if the melodies were stronger. This album seems to be a move sideways, a retrenchment, a sort of public ironing out of the kinks, though the really good tracks (like those featuring Hofstede's Lennonish Costelloisms) do make it a respectable opus.
Henk is another story altogether. Firstly, there's the mystery of the title (weirder since Hofstede changed his name from Hans to Henk after the Work LP). Peters is gone. Hofstede now writes all the lyrics, while he, Stips and agile drummer Rob Kloet share equal credit for the music. Other than a spot of banjo (!) and one track's worth of guitar, there are no fretted instruments to be heard - it's all voices, keyboards and drums. And it's great - oddball pop-rock of the first order. The imaginative range of electronic sounds and textures can be breathtaking, as on Cabins and Under a Canoe. The melodies are attractive. The words are often abstract but always evocative. The Nits now sound like...the Nits.
In The Dutch Mountains - the title track inspired by Cees Nooteboom's acclaimed quasi-fantasy novel - is also impressive. The Nits again sound like the Nits, but substantially different Nits. Intended to resemble a live show, it was recorded in their own rehearsal room, an old gym in Amsterdam...straight to two-track digital tape with no dubbing or mixing after the actual recording. New bassist Joke Geraets plays only a stand-up acoustic; Hofstede's back to playing guitar. The occasional guests are three female backing vocalists and a steel guitar player. Hofstede's lyrical approach is - as on Henk - offbeat, but also consistently personal (even at one point confessional). Surreal juxtapositions of prosaic imagery suggest travels through his dreams. The cleverly contrapuntal music and rhythms use a tonal/timbral palette that is more subdued (yet equally effective in its way) than Henk. And this is nearly a live album! Brilliant.
The Hat mini-album (six tracks, 25 minutes) refines the earlier emotional postcard approach, with the theme of loneliness - romantic, spiritual, physical - getting a real workout. It's quite enjoyable, the unified sound not unlike Omsk or Kilo, yet sonically lighter and simpler.
Soon after, the Nits recorded a double live album, Urk. The selection of 29 songs (over two hours) samples every record from Work on, with Dutch Mountains getting the most emphasis, followed by Henk, Omsk and Hat; a strong, well-blended assortment. Carps: While several songs from weaker records seem more impressive than before, some better numbers are a little less so. In addition, a couple of theatrical songs geared for the stage lose something without the visual component. Still, it's an enjoyable overview as delectable as the original albums.
Geraets had departed by Giant Normal Dwarf, and the LP is all Stips' keyboards, Kloet's drums and Hofstede's voice(s). Even more explicitly than Dutch Mountains, the record concentrates on dreams, fantasies and childlike visions. With less energy and more reserve, it's not as immediately imposing as Dutch Mountains or Henk, but is still an attractive, wishful, sometimes disturbing album, engagingly capturing the internal logic of dreams and translating complex emotional states into songs. And it's darned pretty, too!
The Trouser Press
Record Guide, 4th Edition (Collier Books New York 1991)
The subtitle is A Rhapsody in Time, and the piece is divided into rooms. Some of the rooms are also divided into parts, and the track numbering on the CD goes along with the parts, so room 12 is track 19. The problem is that the division between many of the parts and the rooms feels arbitrary. There aren't really pauses, but it all flows on con- tinuously for almost an hour. You could have fewer rooms/parts if you wanted to. Or more.
Yes, some rooms stand out very clearly like Room for Percussion and the four vocal numbers, of which two are taken from Ting, which was their most recent regular album at the time (and my least favourite Nits album). Typically these are the rooms that are not written by Rober Jan Stips alone. (Overall this appears more as a Stips work, than a collective Nits effort.)
The style of the music is best described as impressionistic. Many of the rooms offers music that flows around without any distinct theme. Orchestral ambient music if you like. It doesn't sound overly original, although I can't pin-point and say: thats taken from...'. One exception though: The first part of a room called Pianata re- minds me of the last movement of Keith Emersons piano concerto. The liner notes say Bela goes America, and maybe both Stips and Emerson took the inspiration from Bartok.
So, I guess the reason that I don't find this work being of any extraordinary listening, is that it doesn't offer much more than tranquille background listening.
Since I didn't know of Freek at all, and the most recent Nits album I've heard, Ting, was a bit of a disappointment, I was uncertain on what to expect. And it didn't start of too well. The open Quo Vadis is a piano-rock tune, a bit too simplistic for my taste. But then comes Vieze ouwe man. And Een fantast. And.. there are so many songs full of wonderfulcraziness it's difficult to name them all.
The Nits have always been more pop than rock, and their sound has most of the time been leaning towards the beautiful rather than the noisy and burlesque. But here they are bending the curves quite a bit, matching Freek de Jonge's vocals very well. Some songs are smooth, like Sarawak. But then you have God wat ik ben blij which is very angst-ridden. What is good is that there is a good mix between the calmer numbers, and the more chaotic ones, so you get a chance to catch your breath, although is is the more chaotic numbers that makes this album such a thrill.
Here I've said smooth and chaotic, but while God wat ij ben blij is chaotic, you cannot say that about for instance De zandloper which opens with that sort of a monotone chant of a priest in mass, but the words and none that he would sing. (No, they are not filfthy, they just doesn't have anything to do with church.) Vaders stem on the other hand is calmer song, but with nice harmonies. And we shouldn't forget the title track, the old Nits favourite In Dutch Mountains, now with Dutch words. (And talking of that, the fact that The Nits have sung in English has always been a little minus in my book. Finally I find them with Dutch vocals, and it is one of their very best albums!)
As I said, I don't know about Freek de Jonge, but it seems safe to say that it is not his singing alone who have made him famous. As a singer his range seems quite small; he almost talk himself through the songs. Rather it seems that a lot is the lyrics. My knowledge of Dutch mainly comes from its similarity to German and Swedish, so I get don't get all of it, but the lyrics seems to be meaningful, personal and least of all trite.
All and all, this is a formidable album. You can recognize some of the typical devices that are typical for The Nits, but Freek de Jonge's more playful and less strict singing adds a completely new dimension to it all. So next time you are in Amsterdam or Brussels, drop to a record store and get this album!
(From Erland Sommarskog, sommar (at) enea (dot) se)
Im Kosmos der Weltfremden und Verträumten, der Seiltänzer und stillen Zauberkünstler haben sich die fünf Niederländer längst einen eigenen beschaulichen Planeten gesichert, von dem aus sie die musikalische Welt immer wieder mit kleinen Wunderwerken aus Naivität, Experimentierfreude und unspektakulärer Melancholie überraschen. Viele ihrer Songs enthalten einen Kern von rührender Romantik, der sich beim Hören langsam aus einem Blätterkleid von verschrobenen, kunstversessenen und bisweilen verwirrenden kompositorischen Ideen schält. dAdAdA dagegen ist direkt und zugänglich wie selten.
Die filigranen, gläsernen Melodien springen auf Anhieb ins Ohr und entführen den Hörer auf eine Wolkenreise der Phantasie. Wo andere zur Verdeutlichung der Stimmung Regengeräusche benützen, erzeugen die Nits wesentlich eindrücklichere Bilder mit purer Musik: Durchsichtig arrangiert, mit Stimmen und Chören ohne Donner und Doria geschmackvoll hinterlegt, öffnet sie das Bewußtsein für Texte, die in entwaffnender Einfachheit von Sehnsucht, Trauer, schmerzlichen Erinnerungen an die Schönheit des Lebens und der Welt erzählen. Was anderen peinlich gerät, wirkt hier durch den Verzicht auf Posen, markige Sprüche und wortreiche Verquastheit verletzlich und aufrichtig. Wie aufrichtig zeigt die Notiz zum fehlenden Text von Bilbao Boa: Da die Worte während der Aufnahme improvisiert wurden, ergäben sie auf Papier keinen Sinn.
Die Nits sind musikalische Entdeckungsreisende (das Dominospiel auf dem Cover fanden sie in einem kleinen Laden in der estnischen Stadt Tartu), ihre Platten sind kleine, schimmernde Perlen im Meer der Beliebigkeit und Vergänglichkeit. Kunstwerke, die das Leben verlangsamen, die anrühren, aufmerksam und sensibel machen. Und dAdAdA ist vielleicht das schönste ihrer vielen Alben und gehört schon deshalb in jede gute Sammlung, weil es seine Wirkung auch in vielen Jahren noch haben wird. Und weil weit und breit nichts Vergleichbares zu finden ist.
Wie ich meine Liebe zu den NITS beschreiben, erklären, verbreiten soll, fragt sich der Rezensent in mir seit Jahren. Der Nits-Fan in mir winkt freundlich lächelnd ab: Was macht's schon, wenn kaum jemand eine der liebenswertesten, klügsten, elegantesten, geschmackvollsten, interessantesten Bands kennt, solange Du sie kennst? Und Dich darauf verlassen kannst, dass ihr ungefähr 13.Album Alankomaat wieder höchst spannend, amüsant, wunderbar ist? Eigentlich nichts, aber wenn man die Welt so ansieht, wünscht man sich doch, es würde ihr mal so gehen wie der Mitarbeiterin, die grade reinkam, stehenblieb, lauschte, um nach zehn Minuten verträumt zu hauchen: Mein Gott, ist das schön.
You know how it is, when you experience something so wonderful and sublime, you just need to tell the world about it? Well, since I can't tell the world, I can at least post it to a group of people who may get something out of it.
I've just picked up the newest CD by Nits, a group from the Netherlands who -- in my opinion -- bear more than a passing relation to the Legendary Pink Dots. For over 20 years they've been releasing a steady stream of albums, each one different from the last, and each one worthwhile in its own way. When you pick up a Nits album, you never know what you're going to hear...and while some of the tracks are invariably throw-aways, most of them are -- in my opinion -- brilliant, heart-wrenching, sweet...and catchy.
Here's how I see it: if you take the curious poetry of Edward Ka-Spel and Leonard Cohen, the varied instrumentation of the Dots, pass it through a sort of Minimalism Filter, add the painful sincerity of The Red House Painters, throw in influences from all over the world and a big heaping mess of The Beatles...you get something approaching Nits.
Their newest album, Wool, follows up Alankomaat (their previous) as a shockingly melancholy and wistful CD...most of the tracks are slow, jazzy pieces (aided by the ZAPP! String Quartet and The Stylus Horns). Henk Hofstede's lyrics are, as usual, oblique and observational, but -- in keeping with the recent trends in his music -- almost crushingly sad and uncertain. A singer named Leona Philippo sings backup on most of the songs, and I hope that she becomes a permanent Nits member...she swings between soulful vocals and a kind of angelic, crystalline sadness. Arwen & Laetitia are wonderful additions to the group, Arwen's bass helping the noir-jazz sound along.
There are moments of atypical Nits experimentation here as well: the odd, timestretched vocal bridge in 26 A (Clouds In The Sky), the weird whispery percussion of The Darling Stone, the analog "space" noises throughout Seven Green Parrots, and the absolute croaky weirdness of Frog, the only upbeat track on the CD (reminiscent of the earlier Nits track, Orange, which helped to defuse the sad loneliness of another album).
I'm not saying that everybody who likes the Pink Dots is going to like Nits...far from it, probably. But if you see Wool at a listening station somewhere, or you can convince your record store to play it for you, give Clouds In The Sky, Crime & Punishment or Strawberry Girl a chance...but beware. While buying up releases by Nits is not nearly so arduous as buying up LPDs, it's still quite a chore...and, in my opinion, equally necessary for my mental health.
And if you're flirted with Nits over the years and haven't decided whether to buy this new one or not, I can confidently say this IS their best album yet (excluding the double-live Urk, maybe). It's cohesive, perfectly & clearly produced, and every song is essential. Not to mention the packaging is a work of art...quite an accomplisment for a band known for their packaging.
It is 14 years ago today that the arty and intellectual Pop by the Nits left the feuilleton pages to give the Dutch group fifteen minutes of fame. In the Dutch Mountains was in 1987 the only commercial success of The Nits - kind of a mistake because the song didn't really fit in the charts at that time. But still it is characteristic for The Nits' music until today. For their bizarre humour - which mountains? - and for their fun in telling stories.
And this has not changed on their new record Wool. But the music has. The new songs starting the concert are more airy, easier, quieter, even a little bit more melancholic than usual. Arwen Linnemann is playing the double bass, Laetitia van Krieken's keyboard has all the minor key string sounds in it, the excellent Rob Kloet - the only starting member next to Hofstede - gives a lesson in effectively playing quiet. He shakes a tiny rattle and produces more athmosphere with this than other drummers do with a whole music store.
Percussion as the silent center of a band in the era of beats? In the Jazzhaus the time is going back today. Hofstede shows his teeth and bends over his instrument like Schroeder from the peanuts and leaves the mike to his black co singer Leona Philippo. The Nits have soul and the mood is rising. Extra applause. But the next song - Sketches Of Spain from '83 - puts a nostalgic smile on the faces of the many people born in the sixties. And after the fifth encore those smiles still remain. Dear, that was great. Dear, how time flies.
Peter Disch, Badische Zeitung, Fr. 17.02.01
Their music is ageless, but you have to get used to it. It is filled with surprises and contradictions and is getting stronger thanks to its athmosphere. And the expert audience on wednesday in the Colos-Saal got convinced by it.
To find a category in which The Nits' compositions fit in is quite a difficult task, but in the end it would probably be Pop. But the versatility is clearly shown by the numerous influences of other musical styles, who can always be found in their songs. The Nits deliver the unexpected again and again, jump across trends and cover Jazz, Country, Rock, even oriental folklore with their music. They switch between a minimum of instruments and bombast and reject the conventional ways of hearing. The songs get interrupted by changes of tempo and style, and often they end in a totally different way than they started. The word zeitgeist doesn't exist for them, they seem to override the laws of music. Some songs deserve the label of Ohrwurm [catchy tune]. Their genius on stage was impressive, especially the drummer was terrific.
For years the true fans are coming to all The Nits' concerts and sometimes even travel with them. The athmosphere was good, but not boiling. It was a knowing audience which found their way to the Colos-Saal, they were here to listen to the music and the funny presentation by the singer. Aftre the applause of the previous song had died, there suddenly was a perfect, nearly magical silence, and often The Nits used those moments of contemplation for new surprises.
It was an interesting act, but the music of The Nits doesn't come easily to you on first hearing. A comparision with Lennon/McCartney seems exaggerated - the music of The Beatles was basically simple. The music of these Dutch seems more closed up, more complex, but it is compact. A meaningful gravity and melancholy was the center of the programme. The Nits are not very similar to everyday's music - one reason more for their uniqueness.
Michael Jäger, Main-Echo, 19.02.01