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"Somewhere Beautiful"

The Chills – Somewhere Beautiful
11 October 2013, 14:30 Written by Hayley Scott

2013 is yet another year of nostalgia and retrospection; endless revisits to bygone sounds of yore – box sets, reissues, comebacks and re-releases from the elusive and prolific- forgotten or extant. This is all very appropriately timed, then – having been an indelible presence in independent music since 1980, influential New Zealand band The Chills recently announced news of their first full-length since 1996’s Sunburnt to cement the partnership between Fire Records and label Far South, along with Somewhere Beautiful; a 20-song set evincing their latest live incarnation.

Pertinently, their native Flying Nun records announced a partnership with Brooklyn label Captured Tracks earlier this year to reissue their prestigious back catalogue, chronicling the label’s zenith and rekindling our affinity for its intrinsic “Dunedin Sound”, a primitive pop approach of which The Chills were early proponents. Habitually ever-changing when it comes to line ups, sole constant Martin Phillipps is joined by four other members– Erica Stichbury, Oli Wilson, James Dickson and Todd Knudson – making it their third ever five piece in some twenty years, all of whom are individually imperative to the band’s exhilarating live sound.

The Chills’ reincarnation developed five years ago, and Somewhere Beautiful is the result of sheer vagary: the band were asked to play a private show near Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island for a combined birthday party and New Year’s Eve gig in 2011: “Of course equipment failed, all the things that should go wrong did their best to do so – but yet, we caught it all on tape” explains Phillipps. Indeed, like the best live albums, Somewhere Beautiful is palpably impulsive and erratic; any imperfections are obscured by a spontaneous urgency that’s integral to the experience of live music.

Despite affirming pastures new, Somewhere Beautiful is a manifestation of The Chills’ ability to retain the best of their sound, while recreating elements that adapt to a live environment as a new collective. Preserving their idiosyncratic approach to pop, the album displays Martin Phillipps’ punk rock tendencies with precipitated, high octane interpretations of their greatest hits, while the distinct subtlety of their studio recordings is still marked. The new band are essential components here: Erica Stichbury’s electric violin gives opener ‘Night Of Chill Blue’ heightened sentience, with its visceral, post-punk origin not marred by over-sentimentality. Elsewhere Oli Wilson’s keyboard is a faint but essential accompaniment until ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’, where it infiltrates in trademark style; Phillipps’ vocal refrain delivers with intensity and conviction, particularly on the elegiac ‘Submarine Bells’.

It’s perhaps the timeless quality of this music that stands out most. ‘Pink Frost’, for example, is exemplary of a band considerably ahead of their time, and live its innate eeriness really prevails, with those opening, upbeat guitar riffs swiftly counteracted by the song’s underlying dark melancholy.Thrilling and unexpected, Somewhere Beautiful is triumphant at retrofitting and perpetuating the best of The Chills, while the unreleased material marks promise for their forthcoming full-length.

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