The Chills

Snow Bound

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    8
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After coming back with 2015's Silver Bullets, an album that reasserted the genius of Martin Phillipps but sounded a little tentative at times, the Chills' second album of the 2010s is a brilliant pop hit that's bold, bright, and confident. Snow Bound is a big pop statement, overflowing with singalong choruses, ringing guitars, rich arrangements, and Phillipps' typically trenchant observations. It's reminiscent of the Go-Betweens' 16 Lovers Lane, Prefab Sprout's Steve McQueen, or the Chills' own Submarine Bells; albums that have ambition and reach but don't sacrifice an ounce of humanity in the process. Unlike those records, which were often tied to some questionable production techniques, Phillipps, his band (the same sympathetic lineup from Silver Bullets), and producer Greg Haver work together to make the album sound modern and spotlessly clean on the surface. They also give it a warmth that keeps it from sounding clinical. Phillipps' songs are witty and super hooky as usual; each one sounds like it could be extracted and called a single. Some of them are as good as any the band have released. Maybe not as timeless as "Heavenly Pop Hit," but the title track, the incessantly catchy "Bad Sugar," and the swinging indie rocker "Scarred" come close. There are political statements ("In Harmony"), introspective moments ("Complex"), and bittersweet love songs (Time to Atone"), all wrapped in sonic finery like sweeping Hammond organ, bubbling synths, piping oboe, and stately piano. The arrangements are full to bursting with sound, but it's never too much. The big hooks and weighty statements Phillipps put to paper needed impressive backing and that's exactly what they got. It may be a long way from the wooly, home-cooked sound of the early Chills, but times have changed, as has Phillipps, and this record is just about the best possible scenario for a Chills record in the late 2010s. The songs are definitely there, Phillipps' wonderfully light vocals are as strong as ever, and the sound is a perfect example of how to make a record that sounds as big as a stadium while still being driven by real emotion.

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