Mensenkinderen – Het land dat ooit vol eerbied zong


A surprisingly intimate project by Bas van Nienes, lead singer of Anderson

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One might call it a luxury problem. Bas van Nienes had travelled all over the world over the years, together with his musical companion Jeroen van der Werken (the other half of their electro-pop duo Anderson). Tokyo, Berlin, Los Angeles and Stockholm: been there. The hippest clubs and festivals, radio and TV shows: done that. Loads of new friends and acquaintances: bought the T-shirt.
After the intensity of touring – seemingly endless flights, hours and hours of driving, surviving on fast-food and sushi, adrenaline days, sleepless nights – the trip would end where Bas had started it: at home.
Home. Drab Monday mornings in a terraced house in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands. Getting used to a fresh family life with a newborn child. An agenda full of blank pages. The transition couldn’t have been more abrupt. Nevertheless, Bas rather enjoyed it this way.

Just recently, he’d felt completely lost, at a fancy function on top of a Hollywood skyscraper. He didn’t feel like he belonged there. He wanted to be back in Holland, with both of his feet in solid Dutch clay soils. That would feel so much more familiar.

Bas had lost the desire to take on the world. Maybe the time had come to drop his former career plans and start on something new. He got into his garden-shack-turned-recording-studio and locked himself in. And as he did so, his darker doubts and fears soon started surfacing.

Bas decided to turn to his old diaries and rediscovered his own ponderings of years before. There was unmistakably a bit of poetry to be found in those scribbles, too. He remembered the country of his youth, back when his world was yet small, but his faith knew no boundaries. Very gently, whispered glimpses of new melodies introduced themselves to him.

So Bas moved a cartload of instruments into his back-yard barn and locked himself in again. He needed some background tracks for his stormy stream of consciousness.
No high hopes, no excited expectations. He wasn’t going to put together any elaborate pop songs – and he wasn’t going to subject his writing to any radio editing either.

Fortunately, blood is thicker than water. Before long, Bas had completed a set of sublime miniature pop songs, breathing Anderson’s familiar indie-electro style, but much more intimate and ramshackle. Bas named his new project Mensenkinderen (Children of Men). Its compelling melodies and frail arrangements remind one of The Innocence Mission’s dreaminess, Sufjan Stevens’ multi-layered arrangements and Loney Dear’s crafty nostalgia.

All of the lyrics are in Dutch, as a tribute to his home country. Some of them were taken directly from his own diaries. Some of them are from his grandfather’s travel logs. Some are stories of nostalgia, fragments of what could be children’s songs – and all of a sudden a robust refrain for a song of faith bubbles up, which would be well in place on the weathered pages of a long-abandoned village church songbook.

There’s a lot of melancholy to be found on Mensenkinderen. At the same time, it’s also disarmingly playful and full of an almost childish sense of hope. This cheerful ambiguity starts right in the opening song – see if you can stop yourself from smiling when Bas sings about his fantasy world, accompanied by a Nintendo-like bass line:

A house built out of Lego bricks
A cut-out cardboard car
A church made out of plastic
Melting in the sun
An airplane in the distance
Soaring on paper wings
I’m writing my own Bible
On an island far away.