It is with some mixture of gratitude and relief that I share with you today my review of the newest album from The Chills. Snow Bound, out this Friday from Fire Records, is the sort of thing that makes long-time fans of this band grateful that these New Zealand legends are still around, and relieved that the talents of front-man Martin Phillipps have not diminished a whit since 2015's comeback album, Silver Bullets.
if anything, Snow Bound is evidence of a new energy in Phillipps' craft, tracks like "Bad Sugar" and "Scarred" positively bouncing out of the speakers. If matters here seem more general, a quick look at lines like "...all shades build a fairer nation" (from "Complex") reveals that Phillipps has sacrificed none of his compassion in these difficult times, his voice now that of someone searching for some more enlightened era ("The Greatest Guide Has Died"), or realizing the need to face a grim reality ("Time To Atone"), or pointing the way towards an ideal ("In Harmony"). And if Phillipps' lyrical concerns are serious -- sometimes grave -- ones, the lightness of touch throughout the music on Snow Bound is impressive, these players -- James Dickson, Todd Knudson, Erica Scally, and Oli Wilson -- creating a humble racket behind Martin's plaintive-yet-hopeful vocals. At his best here, Martin Phillipps seems to have found renewed purpose in life, and a more devout faith in his own gifts as, truly, "Deep Belief" stands as one of the finest things he's penned in decades, and every bit the equal of earlier Chills classics like "Double Summer" from Soft Bomb (1992) or "Singing In My Sleep" from Submarine Bells (1990). Simply put, the cut is the sound of this songwriter finding his own secure place in the world of rock-and-roll.
A tight collection, Snow Bound is economically-great, the kind of casually-brilliant record Phillipps can routinely create, his brain and heart ruling things here in a way that few other performers would allow. In other hands, there would be no such deftness as that found on this record. And, to his enormous credit, Martin Phillipps renders these compositions beautiful things, chamber pop that's smart and heartfelt, never labored or smug. I'm so grateful for this man's music and have been for more than 30 years now.
Snow Bound is out on Friday via Fire Records.