Long overdue, the new reissue of Kaleidoscope World from The Chills, out Friday via Flying Nun Records, should serve as another set of reminders of why this band is so, so important, their tunes things to be cherished. The Martin Phillipps-fronted outfit has been making music for nearly 4 decades now, through a shifting line-up with Phillipps being the constant. Riding a new wave of much-deserved appreciation following 2015's superb release on Fire Records, Silver Bullets, Phillipps has been performing with the band around the world -- no shows in the USA beyond NYC yet though! -- and it seems as if The Chills are now finally getting the sort of serious attention their music has demanded for so long. And as newer fans are getting acquainted with the band's back-catalog, that job is a good deal easier now that this compilation of early Chills recordings has been reissued.
Originally released in 1986, Kaleidoscope World was quite a bit shorter before in previous iterations; my version was 18 cuts and this new edition has been expanded to 24. Originally meant to collect the band's releases prior to 1987's Brave Words, Kaleidoscope World stands on its own as a sort of introduction to the band's sound, spanning as it does the chamber pop of seminal tracks like "Satin Doll" and the title cut, all the way to the band's somewhat harder explorations like "Never Never Go" and "Bite". Of note in this edition of Kaleidoscope World is the early version of "The Oncoming Day" that's included here. Positively rollicking, the track bristles with a sort of DIY vibe typical of the music of The Chills, the difference being that the early efforts of Martin Phillipps never felt like those of a small, lo-fi songwriter, his tunes being sometimes big, always intimate numbers, every bit as Beatlesque ("The Great Escape", "Doledrums", "Rolling Moon") as those of acts who had more money for grander exploits in the studio.
Of course, the familiar gems are all here: "Pink Frost", as haunting as ever -- has despair ever sounded so radiant? -- the oddest song about death ever written perhaps; "I Love My Leather Jacket", all crunchy riffs and hippest of hip nods in the defense of the ultimate fashion accessory; "This Is The Way", all languid lines and calm vocals; and the shuffling, understated, charming familiarity of "Frantic Drift" -- all here, all crisper and brighter than ever before on this new edition of Kaleidoscope World thanks to the work of the folks at Flying Nun Records. Last year, when I interviewed Martin Phillipps, he mentioned the "third atmosophere" that sometimes occurs as a result of the pairing of his music and lyrics and the contrasts that ensue. At its best, the music of The Chills is full of that sort of thing and there's something wonderfully happy and sad about some of this stuff as a result of the juxtaposition of Phillipps' lyrics, the music, and the overall presentation. And, thankfully, the edges are rough enough on the cuts on Kaleidoscope World that things remain fresh for a listener even now, 30 years later. The bonus tracks on this edition further highlight that clash between the unhurried chamber pop and the spiky DIY nature of the first releases from Martin Phillipps' outfit, releases that sort of forged the template for the sound of the Flying Nun label in those early years of its existence. And, thankfully, all the extras here feel integral to the story being told by Kaleidoscope World of the progression of the craft of perhaps the best songwriter to ever emerge from New Zealand.
Of those additions to Kaleidoscope World this time out, there's the charging early take of Submarine Bells (1990) staple "The Oncoming Day" and an "unplugged" version of "Dan Destiny And The Silver Dawn" from Brave Words (1987). "I'll Only Ever See You Alone Again" rattles impressively, all big hooks and indie power, while the flip, "Green-Eyed Owl", offers up a near-waltz figure and shifting time signatures. The additions to this version of Kaleidoscope World come to a close with "Smile From A Dead Dead Face", a live rarity that showcases a rougher, looser side of The Chills that's sometimes obscured by the band's more ornate works.
Kaleidoscope World (1986) is, if it wasn't obvious enough by now, an absolutely essential addition to the Chills catalog in any version, this expanded edition being the preferred one. While a compilation, there's a coherence and integrity here throughout that belies the fact that this is indeed not a proper album. Every bit as necessary to the charting of the evolution of the art of Martin Phillipps as Brave Words (1987) a year later, 1986's Kaleidoscope World is the Hatful Of Hollow (1984) in this lot's discography. Containing some of the band's best material, and serving as a perfect entry point to the artist in question, Kaleidoscope World (1986) is the first great Chills album (even if it is a compilation). With the inclusion of an additional 6 cuts, the collection is now even more essential.
Out on Friday, August 19, Kaleidoscope World by The Chills should be on your radar if you don't already own this one. And if you do, the extra material and sonic upgrade in this version should be reasons enough to convince you to re-buy this album if you already have it in an older edition.