Silver Bullets is The Chills first new record since Sunburnt in 1996. Their distinctive, complicated and smart guitar pop mixes lyrics of desolation with memorable, bright melodies.
The Chills, along with bands such as The Clean and The Verlaines were part of The Dunedin Sound - a style of indie-pop from New Zealand with a jangly guitar sound.
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I'm not going to add much to what Hayley has said but this is really worth persevering with. Martin Phillips is such an unusual songwriter and I'm absolutely delighted to report that his skills haven't deserted him. This will appeal to any fans of The Chills last two outings 'Soft Bombs' and 'Sunburst' rather than perhaps their early work. It's full of hook-filled and clever songs that wander this way and that, sometimes only reaching melodic pay dirt after several red herring swerves.
It's not as immediate or as economical as their 'classic' work but it's not the work of an artist sitting on their laurels either. It's a lengthy, well crafted album with varying moods and that classic reverbed guitar and organ sound preserved nicely. My main gripe is that my CD copy is far too compressed for comfort and makes making Martin Phillips sound like he's singing down a metallic pipe. This is not the first album this year affected by over exuberant mastering - bands like this just don't need the heavy treatment as after two or three songs your ears are killing. Today I'm playing it on an ancient stereo with the treble turned down and it sounds just great. Probably better than 'Submarine Bells' in my humble opinion.
It’s been 31 years since the release of ‘Pink Frost’ – the single that perhaps best defines The Chills, and the one that arguably moulded indie rock into what it is today. When I first heard that song about ten years ago I didn’t realise it was recorded in 1984, not until I saw the marvellously low-budget video for it. ‘Pink Frost’ was so ahead of its time that it could be released today and still have a similar impact on a whole new generation. Songs like this, ‘Rolling Moon’ and ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’ have an indelibility that has made The Chills one of the most important proponents of New Zealand’s widely- revered “Dunedin sound”.
That’s why it’s difficult to say a bad word about these guys, and searching for an honest review of ‘Silver Bullets’ is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Following on from ‘The BBC sessions’ released last year on Fire Records, ‘Silver Bullets’ hails the return of New Zealand’s most respected exports, with it being their first full-length album in nearly two decades. Unsurprisingly, classic facets of The Chills we know and love are all there: the effortless ability to combine melodic pop hooks with Phillipps’ intelligent lyricism – playful as it is often unsettling, in the same way ‘Pink Frost’ evokes a beautiful eeriness, while ‘Doledrums’ is its chiming, less serious counterpart.
Phillipps’ voice hasn’t changed much – still a little strained and filled with laid-back emotion. Songs like ‘Liquid Situation’, ‘Aurora Corona’ and ‘I Can’t Help You'’s spirited, poppy exterior has a quality at times reminiscent of classics such as ‘Kaleidoscope World’ and ‘Satin Doll’, but it’s not all nostalgia-driven, as there are tinges of the band exploring pastures new in instrumental opener ‘Father Time’ which is a sinister, synth-laden track, and Phillipps’ tendency to engage in social commentary in a clever, but considered way shines on the politically-driven ‘America Says Hello’.
Silver Bullets is by no means perfect – there’s a distinct lack of stand-out moments, nothing takes your breath away in the same way older classics did. I don’t expect them to still be making Dunedin-pop anthems as well as they did, but the potential is there. It’s more of a subtle comeback, and it succeeds in its purpose to reignite an interest in a band that means so much to so many people.
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