The Chills – Kaleidoscope World (1986)

A compilation in the truest sense, Kaleidoscope World covers everything recorded by icons of the Dunedin Sound, The Chills, up until 1986. Yes, everything. In this 18-track compilation, we have the three Chills tracks from the Dunedin Double EP, both sides of the Rolling Moon single, both sides of the Pink Frost single, The Lost EP, both sides of the Doledrumssingle, and both sides of the I Love My Leather Jacket single. Bizarre to think that at this point in the band’s career (six years in), they had yet to release a full-length LP – even with the likes of the single “Pink Frost” behind them. It wouldn’t be until 1987 that The Chills would actually put an album together, with the release of Brave Words.

So, we kick off with the earliest Chills recordings, found in 1981’s Dunedin Double EP, one of which is the title track of this compilation. “Kaleidoscope World” is a breezy, light and innocent enough track, positioned somewhere between sunshine pop and indie pop, featuring a modest amount of Martin Phillipps’ jangly guitar work and a nice overlay of keyboards. The lyrics seem a world away from the likes of “Pink Frost” – ‘I’d look at you, and perhaps you’ll smile at me / Loving my kaleidoscope world’, and the song continues in this vein. It’s a pleasant enough cut, but it’s plain that the band hasn’t quite found their sound yet. However, Phillipps would return to this sort of style in 1990’s Submarine Bells, albeit with greater proficiency and aided by much, much better production value. The next two tracks from this era, “Satin Doll” and “Frantic Drift” both seem to be variations on “Kaleidoscope World” with keyboards again having a large presence, and guitar taking a back seat. The tracks don’t really progress though, and just seem stuck in one gear.

Then 1982’s Rolling Moon release, first the A-side. Now thisis the Dunedin Sound. Great track, the keyboards seem to have a real purpose and energy here, along with the vocals. The guitar work has come to life as well, (jangles, jangles everywhere) and by jove, the drums aren’t bad either. The outro here is a highlight, typical showcase of the Dunedin Sound. Then the two B-sides, first off is “Bite” – here’s The Chills’ dark, punk underbelly. “Bite it through / Bite it through / Get inside you / Bite, bite, bite” is repeated mercilessly, and the jangles have become absent, replaced by gnarly guitars and thudding bass. Second is “Flamethrower” – this is a live track, and I really dig the way it builds, starting with what would become the typical Chills sound, then accelerates into a suggestion of punk rock, followed up by a rollicking drum outro and messy, heavy guitar.

Then the Pink Frostsingle from 1984. Oh man. What an absolute knockout 45” release, even the relatively unknown (to me anyway) “Purple Girl” is a surprisingly excellent addition to the A-side. “Pink Frost” is just a flawless, captivating track. The phenomenal jangly guitar intro sets the track brilliantly, but it soon makes way for the plodding bass line, coupled with the escalating smooth guitar riff that builds into the meat of the song, meanwhile the drums are doing great, solid rhythmic work too. Enter Phillipps’ haunting vocals that float over the rest of the song, and manage to echo through your head even after the song’s conclusion. It does a masterful job at capturing the confusion and helplessness felt after the death of a loved one, through an overdose it seems – “Thought I was dreaming / So I didn’t hear you screaming”. Is this the best 45” release put out by a New Zealand artist? I’m starting to think so. “Purple Girl” is nearly an instrumental track that features a repetitive, heavy guitar riff, followed by some familiar-sounding jangles and a… saxophone? Handclaps? The track suddenly becomes a jam, and somehow it completely works.

Next is The Lost EP, 1985 – these tracks show Phillipps’ attempts at trying to carve out a new sound for the band, with tracks like “Bee Bah Bee Bah Bee Boe” featuring an acoustic guitar and an accordion, and functioning almost like a pub singalong. “Dream by Dream” is probably about as experimental as The Chills got, with a mess of distorted guitars crashing in towards the end of the track, concluding with the band members signing off with a “goodnight” to each other, and then a deep voice bellows “GOODNIGHT, CHILLS”. It’s the sort of offbeat thing I’d expect from Split Enz.

The two tracks in the Doledrums release in 1984 are probably the most understated in this compilation. “Doledrums” sort of harks back to “Kaleidoscope World” and is in a way a predecessor for “Heavenly Pop Hit”, featuring a return of energetic keyboards and jangly guitar. “Hidden Bay” is far more upbeat, almost with a punk rock undertone, but also includes keyboards that guide the track along really smoothly and pleasantly.

The final two tracks, from 1986’s I Love My Leather Jacket single, aren’t too shabby either. “I Love My Leather Jacket” has more of a pure-rock base, as the guitars steadily carry the track with keyboards only making sustained appearances in the intro and outro. “The Great Escape” is one of my personal favourites from the entire compilation. It kicks off with a chilling, melodic guitar riff that slides in and drifts through the track, followed shortly by Phillipps’ vocals that just linger over the song, reminiscent of “Pink Frost”. (this track seems eerily like a sequel to it)

Overall, this compilation contains some really solid staples of the Dunedin Sound era, most of which were new to my ears. There are a few tracks which aren’t so impressive, but you take that considering the amount of time this compilation covers in the band’s life. Anyone curious as to what the Dunedin Sound was, or what The Chills actually sounded like (outside “Pink Frost” and “Heavenly Pop Hit”) should definitely start with this compilation, without a doubt.

B


-Karl

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