The Chills – Kaleidoscope World (Flying Nun)

Kaleidoscope World compiles the first six years of The Chills recordings, from their first single in 1980 up until 1986, one year prior to their first full-length, Brave Words. Not too many bands would wait seven years before recording an album – especially once they cracked the singles charts, which The Chills did multiple times in New Zealand – but The Chills weren’t like most bands. On the surface they would seem to be an indie-psychedelic band, but outside of naming an album Kaleidoscope World, they rarely subscribed to any of the genre’s touchstones. They didn’t experiment with brain-tickling sounds, write trippy lyrics, or create lysergic moods meant to enhance drug-altered perception. Instead, leader Martin Phillips examined the “inner-space” of grief, longing and other personal feelings. Actually, his favorite topic during this period was The Chills themselves, with several songs featuring lyrics about what was going on in their world. That actually provided a lot of material for Phillips, with 10 different line-ups over six years – all detailed in the accompanying liner notes – and, sadly, the death of drummer Martyn Bull from leukemia in 1983. The heartbreaking impact of Bull’s death can be directly heard on a short instrumental titled “Martyn’s Doctor Told Me”, and “I Love My Leather Jacket”, the latter of which would appear to be an ode to one on rock’s most indispensable fashion items, but takes on a different meaning when you learn that it’s about a jacket Bull gave Phillips before he died. “Pink Frost” wasn’t just The Chills best known song; it was perhaps the best song to come out of the entire New Zealand/Flying Nun indie scene. It’s a meditation on the impact death can have on people close to the deceased, and it was the band’s first single released after Bull’s death, yet despite the poignant context, it’s actually based on a dream Phillips had about a girl, and has nothing to do with Bull. It works so well because of the way Phillips’ lyrics and voice perfectly capture the flood of emotions, and difficult soul-searching that comes with losing a loved one. The album isn’t all doom and gloom though – bouncy pop songs like “Don’t Even Know Her Name” and “Hidden Bay” are just as impactful as the more harrowing stuff. It’s a great album by a highly underrated band, and this 30th anniversary edition, with its remastered sound, archival bonus tracks and in-depth liner notes, is the perfect way to hear it.