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Henk Review

by Christopher Evans

Henk was the first album to be recorded by the Nits as a three-piece following the traumatic departure of Michiel Peters, yet it found them in an unexpectedly playful mood. From the eccentric openers "Bike in Head" and "Port of Amsterdam," it was clear that the bandmembers were once more in control of their own destiny and would have no truck with pleas to emphasize their more commercially viable songs. "Bike in Head," for instance, deploys samples of bicycle bells and includes the lyric "I just bought an elephant today," while "Port of Amsterdam" is a rambunctious drinking song in which Hofstede's voice is subjected to all manner of wacky electronic distortion. But for all its often wilful eccentricity, Henk does contain a core of enduring songs that marry the band's pop sensibility with its more experimental tendencies. On the first, "Typist of Candy," Hofstede's touching, double-tracked voice recalls the Everly Brothers, though any retro intent is canceled by a beguiling climax featuring Robert Jan Stips' fairground keyboards and what sounds like someone tap dancing on a typewriter. "Home Before Dark" is an altogether more somber affair, the album's single foray into understatement and one whose directness and simplicity foreshadow Henk's successor, In the Dutch Mountains. "Sleep (What Happens to Your Eyes)" survives a tricky synth arrangement to become one of the Nits' most persuasive blends of melody and electronica, while the irresistible "Cabins" sets Philip Glass to a four-square beat. Too much of the rest, however, is quirky in a bad way. More than once, you suspect Stips and his fancy new sampling equipment were allowed to run riot, dressing up already slender songs with eldritch noises that began to date as soon as the record hit the shops. The CD reissue is filled out with the 1983 mini-album Kilo, none of which has dated as badly as Henk.