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Les nuits

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Album Review

Bands who release one of their very best records in the 31st year of their existence are scarce indeed, but that's exactly what the Nits pulled off with Les Nuits. Where its predecessor, 1974, gave the impression of being too much the result of studio improvisation, with little in the way of embellishment to cover the cracks, Les Nuits sounds like the product of a great deal of thought — and no little heart. Its centerpiece is a trilogy of songs — "The Laundrette," "The Pizzeria," "The Keyshop (War and Peace)" — inspired by the assassination of outspoken filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the street near lead singer Henk Hofstede's Amsterdam home. Hofstede's lyrics contrast the banality of an everyday scene with the unimaginable horror of the shooting, at one point spinning off into the realm of magical realism before coming back to earth with the life-affirming "Keyshop," with its tip of the hat to "Penny Lane." Arguably the album's most memorable track, however, is "The Rising Sun," in which Hofstede's falsetto blends to eerie effect with Robert Jan Stips' howling synth to create something both plaintive and utterly distinctive. On 1974, Stips, who had recently rejoined the Nits after a seven-year sabbatical, frequently sounded as though he were no longer sure what his role in the band was. A virtuoso of the old school, his overly ornate embellishments seemed to have been grafted on after the event, adding only clutter. Here his contributions, while less overtly eye-catching, add both texture and atmosphere, further enhanced by some elegant arrangements for the Mondriaan String Quartet. Rob Kloet's drums, too, have never sounded better, not least because he is playing — usually very softly — a replica of John Bonham's mighty Vistalite kit, miked to pick up every last brush stroke. One of the most distinctive and sensitive percussionists at work in rock today, Kloet truly surpasses himself on a track like "The Long Song," where his gentle improvisations offset superbly the stillness of the song. Most important of all, Hofstede is in prime form throughout, not just as a vocalist who can channel Lennon and Costello at will, but as a composer who can still surprise and delight even in his 55th year.


Formed: 1974 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

There seems little doubt that were they not so geographically challenged, the Nits would be one of the most widely respected bands in the world today -- at least on a par with smart-as-a-whip types like XTC and Prefab Sprout. Certainly few can match their sheer creative stamina: how many other bands can claim to be still reinventing themselves after 30 years and nearly 20 albums? But the Nits come from Holland. And furthermore, the occasional tour of the U.S. and Canada aside, they quickly made it...
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Les nuits, Nits
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