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Submarine Bells

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Submarine Bells went to No. 1 in The Chills' homeland of New Zealand and received a fair amount of promotion and radio play in the U.S., especially on college radio. The appropriately titled “Heavenly Pop Hit” should have been an even bigger calling card for the band, but this entire album’s consistency makes it difficult to single out a particular moment. For a group that generally resisted the album format in favor of singles, The Chills achieved a masterful flow throughout Submarine Bells, with the help of producer Gary Smith. Much of the credit is due to Martin Phillipps’ excellent songwriting and the backing band’s unswerving devotion to serving the songs. Drummer James Stephenson and bassist Justin Harwood bring songs like “The Oncoming Day” and “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” a nasty propulsion, while keyboardist Andrew Todd colors songs such as “Effloresce and Deliquesce” and “Don’t Be—Memory” with a beauty that’s matched by the indelible melodies.

Customer Reviews

If you could brew a New Zealand Summer into a cup, then record that cup...

Ah, New Zealand. They sit, tucked away at the bottom of the world, steeping the culture that races through the West trough an odd sort of filter, generally after a twisting push through Australia. The result is a pop culture that is so unique it almost defines words.

Take punk rock, for instance. It comes storming out of England/New York (Pick your genesis of choice) and quickly infects the world like a six string virus, sending skinny, spotty, snarling kids all over the world into their garages to gouge their angst into guitars. By the time it got to New Zealand , there had already been a few solid, legitimate punk records from Down Under, particularly with Australia's Saints. However,something happened on the way to NZ... punk took off its leather jacket, let the spikes out of its hair, and relaxed on the beach. The Flying Nun label, in particular, became a focal point for this new style of Kiwi Pop. The sound was no longer crunching, distorted, fast and bitter, but bright, clean, and gorgeous. Indeed, New Zealand's underground pop is truly one of the worlds best kept secrets. Bands like The Clean, The Bats, Jean Paul Sartre Experience, Tall Dwarfs all bring a tasty take on what would soon be known as "indie rock/alternative music/etc" . Whatever you want to call it, it is worth exploring.

All that preface to say that The Chills are arguably the best band to come out of New Zealand's nascent punk movement (You have to hand the top dog prize to the mighty, and equally under appreciated, Crowded House). They never made a bad record, so you could start at any point in their catalogue and be smitten, but y introduction was 'Submarine Bells'. I bought it in the Summer of 1990, one of my first burgeoning forays into alternative rock. The fact that it not only sounds as fresh today as any album released in the 20+ years since, but that it stays at the top of my list of all time favorite records speaks to its quality.

As mentioned before, the word that best describes this band, and a lot of Flying Nuns roster, is "clean", or "bright". Despite being influenced by punk, they eschewed the 'wall of sound' pioneered by the Pistols, preferring a delicate wash of melody on the more traditional songs, like the gorgeous rousing of "Oncoming Day". Yet, even these "traditional" songs hold magical moments unmatched by most bands entire catalogue. For example, the high, plucked solo in 'Part Past Part Fiction'. And make no mistake, these songs are brilliant. But that sound, guitars with no effects, highlighted with a tinge of organ or piano, give even the most charging rave up a 'folk' feel, but without the hippie turn that word often brings. Check 'Familiarity Breeds Contempt', a song which, if sped up and doused with distortion, could sit in any pile of 'punk' hits. Yet, the powerful strumming of the verse is offset by the layered, finger picked sound in the chorus.

Then you get the songs that only the Chills could create. 'Effloresce and Deliquesce" is such a gorgeous, lilting song, it may as well by floating on a shaft of light pouring through the slats of a cabana on a Hot New Zealand Summer afternoon. 'Sweet Times' sounds like a sing along soccer match song for Heaven United.

There isn't a song here that would be one of the five best songs in any other band's canon, and there is little to no drop off in quality from any Chills release. If you love music, do yourself a favor, and check out anything with the Chills name (just make sure it's the ACTUAL Chills, not one of the other similarly names bands that pop up from time to time), then move through the Flying Nun catalogue. It is absolutely beautiful, unique pop music, and frankly, given the stuff that we are subjected to that masquerades as pop, lowering the standards for the music buying public, we know that truly genius music can be made that does not insult an audience's intelligence while giving them immediately catchy tunes that sound like you've heard them all your life, yet don't sound like anything you've ever imagined could be true. This is a plea, folks! The world needs more Chills!


My favorite 80's pop style album.

gives me the chills:)

i had only heard the song heavenly pop hit before buying the album, but every song is just a catchy. it's a great listen from start to finish and i've had it on repeat for days. if you're a fan of great pop music with an 80s twist, this obscure collection is a goldmine.


Formed: October, 1980 in Dunedin, New Zealand

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The Chills were one of New Zealand's best and most popular bands of the '80s, making a small but consistent series of chiming, hook-laden guitar pop. Both the songs and the arrangements were constructed with interweaving guitar hooks and vocal harmonies, creating a pretty, almost lush, sound that never fell into cloying sentimentality. Throughout their existence, the band's personnel changed frequently -- there were more than ten different lineups -- with the only constant member being guitarist...
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Submarine Bells, The Chills
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