The CHILLS – ” The Albums “

Posted: February 2, 2023 in MUSIC

The Chills are difficult to stylistically define because their diverse sound traverses lush psychedelia, whimsy and gloom, punk rock and bright jangly pop. Known for their revolving door policy on band members, perhaps rivalled only by the Fall (there have been at least 33 members of the Chills over their 41-year career), the one constant is Martin Phillipps.

The Chills a New Zealand rock band that was formed in Dunedin in 1980. The band is essentially the continuing project of singer/songwriter Martin Phillipps, who is the group’s sole constant member. For a time in the 1990s, the act was billed as Martin Phillipps & The Chills. In the 1980s and 1990s, The Chills had some significant chart success in their homeland and were a cult band in other parts of the world as one of the earliest proponents of the Dunedin sound.

Singer-songwriter Martin Phillipps formed The Chills in 1980 with his sister Rachel Phillipps on keyboards and Jane Dodd on bass after the demise of his punk band, The Same. Also included in the initial line-up were guitarist Peter Gutteridge and drummer Alan Haig. Phillipps’s earlier band, the Same, had formed in 1978 and performed alongside punk bands Toy Love and The Enemy.

The Chills were initially signed by Flying Nun Records and were one of the four bands recorded for the infamous “Dunedin Double” EP in 1982. By this time, the band consisted of Martin Phillipps, Alan Haig, keyboard player Fraser Batts and bassist Terry Moore. One of the tracks recorded, “Kaleidoscope World”, became a signature song for the band’s early years.

Rachel Phillipps returned (replacing Batts) and Martyn Bull took over from Haig on drums in time for the band’s first single “Rolling Moon”, which was a chart hit in 1983. However, Bull’s sudden illness caused the band to then take a year off.

The Chills became essentially a solo project spearheaded by Martin Phillipps, the band’s lead singer and sole songwriter. Band personnel turnover was near-constant—The Chills went through over 20 different line-up changes with Phillipps as the only constant member. Members of the band from 1984 on have included Terry Moore, Alan Haig, Peter Allison, David Kilgour, Steven Schayer, Martin Kean, Justin Harwood, Caroline Easther, Jimmy James Stephenson, Jillian Dempster, and Oli Wilson among others. Several of these musicians went on to further success in bands ranging from The Verlaines to Luna.

The band’s first post-Wrinkle in Time release was the 1984 single “Pink Frost”, which became the band’s biggest hit to that time. It was initially recorded in 1982 by the three-piece band of Martin Phillipps, Terry Moore, and Martyn Bull, before receiving new overdubs in 1984.

“Just the thought fills my heart with pink frost … ” Is it a nod to Pink Moon or Pink Flag? It seems more in line with Syd Barret. filmed at Lover’s Leap where the atmospheric music video for this song was filmed. This haunting, iced-over song reached number 17 on the New Zealand singles chart and still sounds heart-stopping. “Pink Frost” is my favourite. It’s an obvious choice but the ‘vibe’ of the song is so intertwined with my memories of what Dunedin was like, I can’t go past it.

It’s one of those songs that immediately stops you in your tracks whenever you hear it. While it was recorded in 1982, Martyn Bull died in 1983 so it was released posthumously as a single in 1984. If you look at the 7” you’ll see it has “For Martyn” etched on the A-Side.

“This is the Way“ Fill your head with alcohol, comic books and drugs …” From the dreamy “The Lost” EP. I never knew there was a video of this until now. The autoharp, the juice bottle, the simplicity. Dexterously filmed by Chris Knox in one shot at his flat. Phillipps has said the clip documents the band at a sad time. Bassist Martin Kean had left the band but agreed to come back to do some promotional work, including this video. “He makes a personal point by not showing his face throughout the clip but there is also an overall feeling of sadness to the video anyway,” Phillipps wrote on a Facebook post when he unearthed and shared this video.

The a six-song EP called The Lost EP. This EP did not feature any of the band’s previous (or future) singles and peaked at #4 on the New Zealand singles charts in 1985. The Chills undertook their first European tour that same year. This single was followed by the #12-hit single “Doledrums”

One of the very few (perhaps only) Chills songs not written and sung by Phillipps, “Hidden Moon” is the much stronger b-side to the dour and plodding “Doledrums“, a song I’ve never liked (see the Puddle’s Thursday for a more celebratory ode to dole day), and is the work of Martin Kean.

A daft and joyful tune, it’s short and sharp and rhymes “bay” with “May” and “fool” with “cool”. Infectiously fun.

In 1986, the band issued the minor international hit “I Love My Leather Jacket”, recorded at The Point Studio by Danny Hyde. “I Love My Leather Jacket” was dedicated to late drummer, Bull, who had bequeathed the said item of clothing to Phillipps in his will. “I love my leather jacket, I love my vanished friend.” Iconic and irresistible, this is like slowed down glam rock and has a steady stomp, driving repetitive riffs and swirling stabs of keyboard. Famously written as a tribute to former Chills drummer the late Martyn Bull who died of leukemia aged 22. Bull had bequeathed his leather jacket to Phillipps and this song is his bittersweet and philosophical tribute to his dearly missed bandmate and friend. And as the song goes, Phillipps did wear the jacket all the time as he said . “I wore it constantly … I travelled the world in it and I crashed out at parties using it as a blanket. It was very much a part of who I was for many years.”

This whimsical b-side to “I Love My Leather Jacket” features on “Kaleidoscope World” and was accompanied by a promotional video the band made while on tour in London. In it, it’s nice to see them having what looks like fun for once.

Kaleidoscope World

The Chills finally released their first album, “Kaleidoscope World”, in 1986; the album was a compilation of various previously released singles, EP tracks, and songs from the “Dunedin Double” EP.

Brave Words

The band released their first proper album, “Brave Words”, in 1987. The band spent most of 1987 (February through mid-December) promoting the album by touring Europe, interspersed with four July dates in New York and Boston. A full-fledged North American tour occurred in the fall of 1988; tour dates would be a regular part of the band’s life for the next several years.

This clever, droll but hilarious and bouncy b-side of “House with a Hundred Rooms” is one of the best gleaming examples of Phillipps’ skill as a lyricist. “The balloons have all shrunk, the streamers have faded, the punch has gone flat and the record’s outdated. All the dips and meringues and the cakes have gone mouldy.

“House with a Hundred Rooms” There are three different versions of this song that I know of, including a sensationally raucous 1982 live version under the title “After They Told Me She Had Gone”. Mayo Thompson from avant garde rock group Red Krayola produced this 12” version though, and it’s the best. Gauzy and wistful, it’s drenched with melancholic yearning.

It sounds distant, like it’s beaming in from a different room or from underneath the floorboards. And when that unexpected, uplifting organ drifts in from out of nowhere at the end, the song ends on a quietly joyous note.

Nobody rang, nobody told me … ” On the back cover of the 12” the band members are shown wearing party hats and blowing streamers, surrounded by balloons, but looking comically glum.

This cover version of The Byrds song. Appeared on 1989 CD “Time Between: A Tribute To The Byrds”

Phillipps goes to an early source of inspiration with this plaintive cover of the Vietnam protest song by the Byrds. Charting the inner world of a freshly recruited soldier on the morning he is to be drafted into the Vietnam war and the existential dilemma he faces, the song begins with the idealistic “sun warm on my face” and ends on the sombre line “today was the day for action. Leave my bed to kill instead. Why should it happen?” It has a slow, repetitive keyboard motif and does without the bombastic clatter of the original’s battlefield sound effects.

Submarine Bells

In 1990, the band were signed to a worldwide record deal with their music appearing on the Warner Brothers imprint Slash Records in North America. Their 1990 album “Submarine Bells” included their biggest international hit, the whimsically titled “Heavenly Pop Hit”. It sounds simple while being deceptively complicated, dashing through chords from different keys inexplicably, and both the lyrics and the music never resolve – they just move on to the next breathless metaphor about the earth or the experience of being alive, or they leap onto some grammatical pun (I love the line, ‘the tension is ended, the sentence suspended’). It sounds like a hyperactive mind in love. And that chorus – it comes out nowhere, it’s almost wordless, and it’s one of the most moving fragments of music I’ve heard in pop. With typical South Island humility, Phillipps then dismisses his miracle with the refrain – ‘it’s a heavenly pop hit – if anyone wants it.’

If I had to pick a single song to summarise the brilliance and the precariousness, the tightrope walk of being Martin, I’d pick the tile track of their 1990 album, “Submarine Bells” Jesus, this is a beautiful song. 27 years after I first heard it, it still makes my eyes go faraway.

In part, it’s the temerity of it I love. On an album with the radio perfection of Heavenly Pop Hit, and the fast, fast, faster guitars of The Oncoming Day and Familiarity Breeds Contempt, “Submarine Bells” is a bewitching way to end. And the very end of the song (and therefore of the album), in which Martin begins with “okay” and ends with “oh, Kay”, was such a state of the art example of my favourite genre, the completely hopeless love song, that every time I hear it I’m delighted afresh, again.

“I know deep down, hidden in you, submarine bells chime.” I don’t even really know what it’s about. Not exactly. But I don’t need to know that. It’s the way the music invites us to bring ourselves in. And for me, it’s a song about longing and hope and shyness and possibility. Or something. Martin was flying then.

“Submarine Bells” was the band’s first record on a major label and hit number one on the New Zealand charts. It only clocks in at 36 minutes but is a complete journey which saw the group refine some pretty serious songwriting. A lilting and delicate song, the impossibly named “Effloresce and Deliquesce” is an eerie folkish lullaby shanty with breathlessly rapid fire vocal delivery, a sense of high drama and urgency. In lesser hands a song like this would be embarrassingly twee.

The tune was also a hit in the US, charting at #17 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay Chart; it remains their only American chart appearance.

Soft Bomb

The group’s follow-up album, 1992’s “Soft Bomb”, featured a totally different Chills line-up (save for Phillipps), and spun off the hit “The Male Monster from the Id”.

Originally released in 1992, The Chills’ third album ‘Soft Bomb’ came out on Slash/Warners. The Chills’ finest hour.” Perfect Sound Forever, Featuring contributions from giants of contemporary American music like Van Dyke Parks and ex dB’s Peter Holsapple as collaborators.

A cohesive song cycle that brought together indie pop jangle, Phillipps’ clever lyrics, a “drunken piece of music hall” (AllMusic), an offbeat homage to Randy Newman, filmic string-laden scores, some grown up licks and three thematic interludes. it’s a roller coaster 17-song, 51 minute trip, a conceptual classic that embraces styles and genres.

“Their songs call like rare, exotic wines, intoxicating and addictive and beautifully melancholic, while simultaneously inspiringly uplifting.” Repeat Fanzine ‘Soft Bomb’ is an eclectic slow cooked musical stew, rich and rewarding from the much-loved storytelling songwriter Martin Phillipps.

Phillipps announced the dissolution of the Chills after the “Soft Bomb” tour, and joined David Kilgour in a loosely organized covers band known as The Pop Art Toasters, which released a self-titled EP in 1994. Shortly thereafter, though, the ‘Toasters dissolved, and Phillipps put together another Chills line-up and resumed gigging.


This seemingly constant turnover of personnel is often cited as one of several reasons for the band’s lack of consistent “saleability”, and is referred to by the local music scene as “the curse of the Chills“. The “curse” struck again with the recording of the album “Sunburnt” in England, in the summer of 1995.

Two band members were refused entry into the UK, so session musicians had to be recruited at the last moment. Dave Mattacks of Fairport Convention and XTC’s Dave Gregory provided drum and bass work for the album, with Phillipps the only other credited musician (aside from guest keyboards played by producer Craig Leon). This album was issued in early 1996 under the group name Martin Phillipps and The Chills.

After that, the band again split, with Phillipps appearing in another one of David Kilgour’s bands, the Heavy Eights. Nevertheless, Phillipps continued to recruit new Chills members for live shows and played at least a few shows as The Chills every year from 1997 on. For much of the late 1990s, though, Phillipps was laid low with hepatitis C, a side effect of drug addiction problems. He released an album of solo home demos (Sketch Book: Volume One) in 1999; the demos themselves dated from 1988–1995.

Brave Words & The Secret Box

While they had formed in 1980, the Chills only released their first proper album “Brave Words” in 1987. But the band actually had enough material to release two albums prior. Released in 2001, “the Secret Box” is a dizzying set of three CDs which collects some of these rarities along with a slew of singles, EPs, live recordings, studio outtakes, demos, radio sessions and even jingles. If you can get your hands on this set, you won’t be disappointed.

It includes “Balancing” a kaleidoscopic instrumental which was recorded live at the Cook in Dunedin in 1981. A hectic and majestic narcotic swirl of squally guitar, chiming keys, steady motorik drumming and phenomenal bass, it accelerates to a crescendo and you can almost hear the audience’s jaws drop at the end.

Released in 2000, “Secret Box“, was a three-CD box set of Chills live tracks, demos, radio sessions, and rarities was released.

In 2014, an eight-song Chills mini-album called “Stand By” was issued, the first all-new Chills material in nine years. Phillipps’s album liner notes promised: To celebrate the first European tour in 20 years from Dunedin’s finest, we are pleased to announce a special tour release, ‘Stand By’. Featuring two never before release tracks, ‘Find Your Own Way Home’ and a cover of ‘Solitary Man’ (available via a special download / ICE fanclub membership insert), all audio is re-mastered especially for the 2014 European Tour. Released July 27th, 2014

I am preparing to take the band in quite a new direction on the next album. And on that we will begin work shortly.

Despite Phillipps’s claim, however, no new Chills album appeared for over a decade.

In May 2010, the band played two shows in Australia, their first shows outside New Zealand since 1996. Three years later, after another nine-year hiatus from the recording studio, a single newly recorded Chills track called “Molten Gold” was issued.

The track, released on Martin Phillipp’s 50th birthday (July 2nd, 2013), was a non-album 7” single with the re-recorded “Pink Frost 13″ as a B-side.

The BBC Sessions

Beckoned by John Peel himself, the first time The Chills entered the BBC studios in Maida Vale it was a dream come true for the little band that could from New Zealand. Exporting the kind of unique pop smarts that only emanate from Dunedin, they were only too happy to graduate to the fully stocked studio and show the UK what they really had to offer.

Removed from past budget restrictions, but pushed forward by the time constraints of a one day recording, the results produced a rush of superior recordings of their early material, without losing any of the charm so vital to their appeal. This was the real sound of The Chills. Released November 3rd, 2014

Silver Bullets

Following on from ‘The BBC Sessions’ on Fire Records, The Chills release their first full length album in nearly two decades. ‘Silver Bullets’ released October 30th, 2015 the band issued “Silver Bullets“, their first album-length release in 19 years, hails the return of one of New Zealand’s most respected exports; Bursting with chiming Dunedin-pop anthems, melodic rock and Phillipps’ playful punk-rock tendencies, the thrilling new album brings them to the next chapter.

Recorded at Albany Street Studios in Dunedin (NZ) the album instantly reaffirms Phillipps’ aptitude for writing intelligent and timeless pop songs delivered with conviction. Whether tackling issues on the economy, fighting with ‘Silver Bullets’ or the observant nature of Southern Lights on ‘Aurora Corona’, The Chills complex pop resonates in a cacophony of dark-edged songs. Their underlying melancholy remains and is offset by their signature catchy melodies bringing a haunting depth to their idiosyncratic sound.

In February 2017, the band released the David Bowie song “Conversation Piece”.

Snow Bound

On September 14th, 2018, the band released its seventh album, “Snow Bound” The latest postcard from The Chills’ epic journey is an album about “consolidation, re-grouping, acceptance and mortality,” claims the chief Chill. “Hopefully a kind of Carole King ‘Tapestry’ for ageing punks.”

The Chills’ epic journey is an album about “consolidation, re-grouping, acceptance and mortality,” claims the chief Chill. On ‘Snow Bound’ lost heroes are lamented, relationships are re-evaluated, atonement is sought, mortality is mulled over and fake news is undercut.

On ‘Snow Bound’ lost heroes are lamented, relationships are re-evaluated, atonement is sought, mortality is mulled over and fake news is undercut. It’s serious stuff, the thoughts of a dysfunctional 50-something wrestling with maturity and discovering that their post-punk DIY beliefs still have a real voice that resonates between the fans of their early years and which can now pass down to the next generation.

Casting our minds back, we can recall that The Guardian mused, “They sound almost like the musical embodiment of autumn,” when confronted with ‘Silver Bullets’. Three years on, ‘Snow Bound’ nestles heartily in its own winter of discontent. And all this with a humalong melodic verve, Phillipps’ gift for the tempered dalliance of verse and chorus and those gorgeous euphoric organ fills. Let the soul-searching commence… 

Journeyman songwriter Martin Phillipps returned with a Chills track ‘You’re Immortal’. An uplifting and provocative encounter told in the grand baroque pop manner of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ with a gorgeous Chills-approved melody line that harks back to the band’s greatest hits. It’s an anthem for the times, a quest for hope set amid the misinformation of the day and the tip of a fast-melting iceberg, no less.

“These are unprecedented times but, as usual, the young feel invulnerable and the elders are concerned. The old people (like me) want to feel more involved but they also know that their time of influence has largely passed.

So we learn from the young and admire them as they make their own mistakes yet still, hopefully, shape extraordinary history we could not have imagined.” Martin Phillipps on ‘You’re Immortal’

Taking us out of the year, ‘You’re Immortal’ marks a new epoch for The Chills with 2021 set to be an exciting year…


Now in 2021, Phillipps is now taking stock of things – everything. Yes, everything. The result is this triumphant new Chills’ album ‘Scatterbrain’, a thought-provoking and evocative take from a man who has lived through good times and bad.
A mature and honest reflection on life, destiny and the fate of our times delivered in beautiful melodies with Phillipps’ trademarked incisive turn of phrase.

Viewed from the perspective of a man understanding his age and indeed his own mortality, the new album takes a mature look at matters arising with a side order of perspective. ‘Scatterbrain’ is a life passing before your ears as uncertainty increases and fake news rumbles on; during which aliens invade, Phillipps scales the walls beyond abandon as he probes the minutiae of worlds within worlds and the hourglass fills.
A landmark album from one of the great modern song writers, it’s pure pop music for the new normal and we can’t wait to see how it ends…

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