The Chills – Submarine Bells

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I was thrilled to be able to see the Chills live in 2019 (?). I think Martin Phillips mentioned that it had been ten years since they had toured in the U.S. That’s the problem when you are a small indie band from New Zealand (to say nothing of all the bad luck they encountered along the way). I never thought I would get to see the band live at all; they sounded great. Essentially just Phillips and whoever he has playing with him at the time, the band ran through their career highlights with pride and joy, and it felt like a gift to be able to see this talented artist on this rare occasion.

What I Think of This Album

This is a gorgeous album. Lush, lyrical, luminescent – it’s almost flawless.

“Heavenly Pop Hit” is exactly that, with wondrous backing vocals from Donna Savage (Dead Famous People); while it comes across at first as perhaps a bit precious, it reveals itself to be a just as sturdy as it is lovely, with a charming organ part and Martin Phillips’s joyous vocals. A carnival organ colors the excellent “Dead Web.” Dusky “Part Fact Part Fiction” is somehow warm even as it beckons darkness.

A cool tremolo effect dominates the midtempo “Singing In My Sleep,” with a pretty keyboard part from Andrew Todd. Todd is the unsung hero of this album; he does magical, transformative work across all tracks. But the show still belongs to Phillips, who has a pleasant, straightforward voice; an inventive way with a melody; and an excellent, almost poetic, lyrical sensibility.

While the band never truly rocks out, it does kick up a decent storm on the jagged “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” as well as the rushing “The Oncoming Day.” Just as skillfully, they create graceful soundscapes on “I SOAR” (with keyboard-as-woodwinds sounds), the far-too-short-but-still-majestic “Sweet Times,” rueful “Don’t Be – Memory,” and the glorious, flowing title track, which evokes the marine imagery of the cover and the booklet.

The only mistake is “Effloresce and Deliquesce,” which finds Phillips tripping over his tongue to get these ten dollar words out and lacks a melody, but otherwise boasts some interesting sounds.

Bassist Justin Phillips went on to play with Luna.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Heavenly Pop Hit.” You want it. Still.

Release Date

February, 1990

The Cover Art

Arrrrgh. So fucking close. The photograph is beautiful. Too bad they shanked on everything else. The black bar at the left is pointless – an insult to the photograph, actually. The band logo looks amateurish. The font is nice but the composition in the top/center of the cover doesn’t work.

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