The Chills – Silver Bullets

The Chills - Silver Bullets

The Chills – Silver Bullets

Scrutinising the sleeve-notes of the first studio album from The Chills since 1996’s Sunburnt reveals a lengthy feature-film-like list of locations, players and supporting cast members in the low-key yet epic story of the New Zealand legends’ long-trailed official return.  Detailing multiple recording sessions going back to 2013 in studios spread across the UK, Thailand and New Zealand with a reconfigured five-piece line-up and a children’s choir alongside thanks given to everyone from fans, friends, family, staff at new label Fire Records to 6Music DJ Marc Riley, the sheer volume of those mentioned for their shared encouragement of Martin Phillipps – after years battling addiction, illness and music industry marginalisation – to lead The Chills out of the wilderness makes for a heartening enough comeback tale even before playing Silver Bullets itself.

Part-acknowledging this debt further to those who helped nurture The Chills’ rebirth in a recent interview with UNCUT magazine, Phillips suggested that this full-scale LP was cut with the aim of re-connecting to the band’s distinctive legacy as well as providing a stepping stone to a future follow-up album that might see more experimental divergence.  In short, this means that Silver Bullets cleaves closely to The Chills sounds and stylings of yore whilst opening the door to some fresher forward-looking avenues.

The Chills - Silver Bullets (vinyl edition)

The Chills – Silver Bullets (vinyl edition)

Hence, the eleven-track record deftly draws together strands of The Chills’ melodic effervescence and sepulchral whirlpools in cavernous reverb-heavy settings.  It’s the former camp of material that will inevitably satisfy those who once fell for the band’s should-have-been-massive “Heavenly Pop Hit”; with the rousingly redemptive “Aurora Corona”, the giddy galloping “I Can’t Help You”, the twangling title-track and a rougher-edged take on 2013’s sublime “Molten Gold” single all happily reconfirming Phillipps’ gift for gilded hooks.  For the more overtly darker material, Phillipps’ grasp of atmospherics and penetrating melancholy is on equally sure footings, as the languid “Warm Waveform” and twilight tangling of “Underwater Wasteland” assuredly attest.

Elsewhere, perhaps as an indicator of fresher trajectories to follow, the two sides of The Chills’ dichotomous-personality are combined more tightly in the space of two songs.  Thus, the wonderfully sprawling medley-piece “Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon” fuses together shadowy passages cribbed from Pink Floyd’s Meddle with woozy yet sweeping baroque-pop arrangements and the string and kids choir-augmented “Tomboy” sensitively recounts a tale school years gender-confusion with uplifting gravitas.

Given the group’s somewhat uneven history no Chills album is of course flaw-free.  For Silver Bullets this means that “America Says Hello” is a just a little too jarring in its political polemics amongst the more fitting personalised lyrical content and the truncated interlude-like “Liquid Situation” is excessively fleeting.  Furthermore, there are times when the adherence to the group’s self-authenticated production values of old is a touch over-strict in the application of murky studio textures.

Minor niggles aside though, Silver Bullets is a solid and rewarding return to the fray for The Chills which patient followers will wrap their ears around gratefully.  Besides reaffirming Martin Phillipps’ lynchpin position in the Kiwi-rock pantheon the long-player also opens the door to an even brighter and more adventurous future for a band that re-emerged from the dankest corner of the music business to breathe clear air again.

Fire Records