Henk Hofstede

Het Draagbare Huis

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The prospect of an album's worth of music composed to accompany a video installation is probably enough to make most listeners' blood run cold. Traditionally, such projects are characterized by half-formed ambient doodles and fragments of songs that urgently need some kind of visual element to distract from their skeletal state. Such accusations can emphatically not be leveled at the first solo album by Nits frontman Henk Hofstede, which easily ranks with the parent group's best work. Though Dutch by birth, Hofstede had sensibly opted to broaden the band's appeal -- ironically to almost everywhere but America and Great Britain -- by using the lingua franca of English. The odd side project aside, Het Draagbare Huis (The Portable House) was his first attempt to write in his native language in a career stretching back some 28 years. Yet such is the hushed beauty of this meticulously realized music that mere language ceases to be an issue very quickly. The opening (title) track establishes the mood of dreamy intimacy that pervades much of the album: a languid bass riff underpins rippling pianos, melodica, theremin, synth brass, and brushed drums as Hofstede unfurls a plaintive melody. Playing most of the instruments himself throughout the album, Hofstede creates an utterly distinctive sound world in which delicately textured electronics and layered vocals intertwine. Most importantly, unlike most works whose provenance can be traced back to the world of conceptual art, Het Draagbare Huis is driven not by atmosphere but by melody. "Het Stenen Kind," for instance, begins like a solemn, centuries-old folk ballad, until a delightful instrumental passage in which mandolins and theremin harmonize suddenly whisks listeners away to a beach party on the moon. Of the 13 tracks here, only the concluding "Gebroken Ijs" sounds like a work in progress. But by then, most listeners will in any case have been utterly beguiled.