Friday, October 30, 2015

Four Squares 3: Heigh-Ho!

The Chills Silver Bullets

Nineteen years is a long time between drinks.  The last full-length album from Martin Phillipp's band was 1996's Sunburnt, which came out long after my own interest in the band had diminished. There have been releases since then - some compilations of singles and song-doodles (Secret Box, a three-disc example of the latter is a rare find and worth the effort hunting it down), even an EP - but this is the real deal. And to be honest, something of a surprise.

2015 has been a boon of a music year for me, with Dad Rock literally coming out of the walls with not only re-releases of older acts' music (most recently Jean Paul Sartre Experience's own thriple-disc set I Like Rain), but in many cases surprising new releases from vintage acts. More on them in other posts, though. Suffice it to say, that when the past comes knocking, my curiosity is piqued, and when it comes knocking as strongly as this album does, with very little to show for how the years have genuinely condemned Phillipps and his ever-changing (but more recently solidified) roster, then I get excited.

The history of The Chills, like many Flying Nun acts, is one beset with calamity, and after the heights of their early Nineties triumphs there may be no act from the label more befitting an Icarus-like biography than Martin Phillipp's group. I'd pretty much written this mythical album - its title hinted at as far back as a Listener article in 1990, well and truly off - not to mention its creator. Phillipp's liquidity, and later descent into drug addiction and the resulting toll on his health did nothing to dampen my pessimism. A return to form for a leader now being chased by his fifties, I thought, would be nothing short of a miracle.

This is one, though. The sound of this album is as though the years between Silver Bullets and 1990's Submarine Bells never happened. It's an assured return, with gentle, melodic compositions that recall The Chills at their height, pre-Gruge, pre-recording contract collapse, pre-addiction and illness - pre-Soft Bomb and Sunburnt. It's not perfect, but for a Chills album it's damned near close.

There are some real highlights here - 'America Says Hello' is one of the better outward-loking songs Phillipps chooses, amidst a suite that I don't really think are a strong one for him. Social comment floundered on Soft Bomb, and there are echoes of that album's 'Background Affair' in this and Silver Bullets' ambitious, Wilson-esque 'Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon'. Similarly, 'Aurora Corona''s prayer to Gaia is more heavy-handed than the earlier 'Underwater Wasteland' - in fact, the album's first half is its srongest; but that said, 'Warm Waveform' is a splendid opener, with some great guitar work and whispered vocals, and I have a soft spot for 'Liquid Situation', near-monumental, but tantalisingly over too soon. The closing couplet of sing-song 'Tomboy' and 2014's upbeat anniversary release 'Molten Gold' round things out well, and point towards a sound future, and I'll be there this time. Nothing much may change, but be grateful that nothing much has, because in a music career this interrupted, miracles are worth celebrating.

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