The Chills

Submarine Bells

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

On a major label for the first time, Phillipps crafted a lovely record indeed, a mere thirty-six minutes and not a second wasted. Lead-off track and single "Heavenly Pop Hit" remains the most famous track and deservedly so -- over a rapturous keyboard/rhythm combination, Phillipps sings just that, an inspiring lyric with a soaring chorus, aided by additional backing vocals from guest Donna Savage. From there it's one high point after another, never losing the sense of elegance and drive that characterizes the band's work. Phillipps' at-once strong and amiably regular-guy vocals and astonishingly intelligent but never overly obtuse lyrics are both wonders, while Andrew Todd's excellent keyboard work provides both energy and lovely shading. Add to that a fine rhythm section in bassist Justin Harwood and drummer James Stephenson, and it's no wonder this version of the Chills succeeds as it does. One fantastic example of their work together is "Singing In My Sleep," with Phillipps giving heavy tremolo treatment to his guitar as everyone else creates something that's not too far from Neu!'s motorik throb, in a gentler pop vein. More such Krautrock-inspired chug has plenty of echoes on Bells, following in the same vein as "I Love My Leather Jacket" -- check out the brisk delivery on "The Oncoming Day" or the skipping intensity of "Dead Web." Otherwise, there're hints of the gentle folky/medieval touches they enjoy on "I SOAR" and "Don't Be--Memory" and more straightforward rocking out on the sharp "Familiarity Breeds Contempt," where Phillipps' New Zealand burr comes through with intensity. The title track, with serene orchestration filling out the grand arrangement, is a note-perfect way to conclude such a fantastic release.

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