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19 December 2010

The Chills - 'Submarine Bells' (Slash)

Promo copy, with slight water damage in the upper left hand corner. But I'm no collector, and only a mild Martin Phillips fan with a mere two actual Chills releases on my shelf. Interestingly, these two releases represent the two extremes of market reach in his career -- this, perhaps the most well-known Chills album (and their major label debut) -- and then Secret Box, a fanclub rarities triple CD that I never listened to all the way through. Submarine Bells isn't something I remember to listen to very often, as I'm guessing it's been about a decade. A shame too, because it's so undeniably pleasant, but with some introspective depth for those who want to dig. The melodies are gentle and singsong, never insanely hooky or quite as memorable as their early songs like 'Doledrums'. The only real awkward moment is 'Familiarity Breeds Contempt', a slightly sneering, edgy romp that sticks out against the soft keyboards, acoustic strum, and nicely layered (but not overdone) vocals of every other song. The 80s production style (which I can't articulate beyond saying it's a certain drum sound, and a certain sheen on the guitars) is rampant, but it works. Lyrically, Phillips is quite reflective - 'The Oncoming Day' tries to reconcile loss and look to the future. 'I SOAR' gets into explicit surrealism, perhaps drug-influenced, and reminds me of Neil Young in the process. 'Don't Be- Memory' is a more nostalgic take on loss, with a slight hint of melodrama creeping in. I love Kiwi pop music because it can wrap sadness in sweetness, in a nearly disarming way. Plus, the loose sketches, particular in things like Tall Dwarfs, are a real hallmark of the scene - here, the too-short 'Sweet Times' does it. The title track takes it out, in a sweet, keyboard-driven paen to the sea. The liner notes are loaded with information about nuclear testing and Greenpeace, which feels at odds to the personal nature of the record -- even 'Submarine Bells', immersed in its foamy lyrical matter, is about loss and love. Maybe they were just trying to maximize their major label impact. Hopefully it won't be another decade until the next spin, but at the rate this project is going, it probably will be.

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