The Chills Credit: Alex Lovell-Smith

To my mind, the last forward-thinking movements in psychedelic pop music occurred in the 80s and the early 90s. In the UK, bands in the shoegaze/dream-pop scene layered fuzzy, noisy wall-of-sound guitars with breathy, androgynous vocals, while in the U.S,. bands associated with the Paisley Underground took influence from 60s groups such as the Byrds and the Beau Brummels—often filtered through the intensity of punk. Around the same time, a similar love of pure yet avant-garde 60s pop became evident among a crop of musicians in New Zealand who favored the stripped-down DIY efficiency of the Velvet Underground. Leading the charge of what many now call “Kiwi pop” (I’m not big on describing any style of music by geographically, “Krautrock” included) were groups such as the Clean, Tall Dwarves, and the Chills. The last were formed in 1980 by Dunedin musician Martin Phillipps, who’s remained the band’s only constant. The band’s early music included homespun singles such as the hyperactive jangler “Rolling Moon” and the heady, mysterious, moody “Pink Frost.” The Chills moved up the label ladder from indies (including Creation and Homestead) to Warner imprint Slash, while Phillipps’s sublime songwriting blossomed into Brian Wilson-like proportions on dense LPs such as 1990’s Submarine Bells—which yielded the successful single “Heavenly Pop Hit.” Throughout the 90s, the Chills released more great LPs, among them 1992’s Soft Bomb and 1994’s Sunburnt—and having made a major fan out of John Peel, they were invited to record many Peel sessions. But by the end of the decade, Phillipps had to take a break from the group to battle a near fatal case of hepatitis C. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there—Phillipps eventually received a groundbreaking medication that all but licked his ailment, and in 2015 the Chills returned with Silver Bullets, their first studio LP in nearly 20 years. In September they followed this with Snow Bound, and both releases  exemplify the band’s take on crunchy, sophisticated, and uber-catchy pop in the NZ tradition. Tonight’s show is part of the Chills’ first major U.S. tour since 1996. I hope that, along with showcasing their new songs, they’ll lean on the material from their essential 1986 compilation Kaleidoscope World, which was reissued with an entire extra LP in 2016 by Flying Nun/Captured—the collection contains some of the finest pop music ever made.   v

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