Tuesday, September 15, 2009


(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple Word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating. Weighing in this time is The Professor, Wayne Cresser)

Submarine Bells- The Chills (Slash, 1990)

I probably wouldn't have known much more about the Chills than the catchy “I Love My Leather Jacket,” if it hadn’t been for one of those blessed mixed cassettes that friends would give me when the mood struck them. I never saw these 90 minute gems coming, which was a good thing since the surprise of the music had a better chance of working different levels when that happened.

Jen M. gave such a tape to let me know what the radio kids at Wheaton College were digging; this was maybe Spring, 1992. On the tape, there was a lot of Yo la Tengo, Pavement, a wonderfully strange Connecticut outfit called Uncle Wiggly, an even stranger Wiggly spinoff called Fly Ashtray and the sublime Chills from New Zealand. “Leather Jacket,” was in the mix, but that was just the key that opened the door to two songs from their 1990 album Submarine Bells: “Heavenly Pop Hit,” and the title track. “…Pop Hit” was impossibly bubbly-sounding. Paced by an echoey, ascending organ, it might float away if it were not tied to Martin Phillipps’ skeptical writing:

And I’m growing in stages,
and have been for ages,
Just singing and floating and free. Dum de dum dum
Its a heavenly pop hit
If anyone wants it.

The bolded line brings things back down to earth. Not a lot of people wanted “it” despite the Chills wit, charm and musical intelligence. The title track is flat out beautiful, with Phillips putting the finishing touches on the ocean motif that floats under the entire record (which I have to admit, did not come into my possession until years later).

Between the alpha and the omega, there are ten more elegant tunes, the best of which rock hard, “Familiarity Breeds Contempt,” soft, “Don’t Be-Memory,” and weird, “I Soar.” Submarine Bells is one of those records you always listen to in its entirety and wonder what it might have sounded like live.

I imagine the Chills toured the States in the 90’s, but sadly, I didn’t see them. If only I’d been paying more attention


planckzoo said...

I really enjoyed much of the Chills stuff. You can check out back issues of the Big Takeover magazine to get some interviews with Martin Phillips.

mr. don of shaking said...

Correction from the Professor: Fly Ashtray was a NYC group, still is, from which Uncle Wiggly, another NYC group, was spun. My B all the way.