10 Jan 2015

The Chills "The BBC Sessions"

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop on Pop)

One of the many great bands that recorded for New Zealand’s Flying Nun records (along with The Clean, The Bats, Tall Dwarfs, The Verlaines, Straitjacket Fits, and more), The Chills’ particular brand of jangle pop is timeless. That is to say, while there is no mistaking their sound as that of an underground pop band in the 1980s, it still sounds just as fresh today as it ever has.

Beckoned to London at the request of the great BBC tastemaker John Peel himself, these sessions were all laid down between 1985 and 1988 at BBC studios, and ended before the band even started recording their classic "Submarine Bells" album.

When one usually puts on a Chills record, one pretty much knows what it is that they can expect: jangling guitars, sing-song melodies, lots of reverb. And, when one puts on a live album, one pretty much knows that they are going to hear the songs that they love in a whole new, rawer context.

The thing is, that on this live-in-the-studio document, these takes don’t sound the exact same as the classic recordings; if anything, they might sound even slicker than the original recordings! Those originals were recorded on a shoestring budget at small studios in and around the band’s hometown of Dunedin, but these sessions were recorded on state-of-the-art (at the time) gear in cosmopolitan London; so the sound is noticeably cleaner than the band’s original early low-budget singles. Classics like "Rolling Moon" and "Rain" jangle and chime along like they are supposed to. They positively sparkle and remind you all over of why this band was, and remains so important.

Is this the very best introduction for the neophyte? It’s certainly not a bad one. The track list has a couple of early favorites and also includes a few lesser-known tracks that are great to hear. And the performances are great: vital and raw.

If quintessential Chills is what you are looking for, I would suggest that you would do better to start with their wonderful early singles collection "Kaleidoscope World", or their classic 1991 LP "Submarine Bells". Nonetheless, "The BBC Sessions" is essential listening for the fan that wants a more-complete look at what made The Chills such a vital force in the New Zealand and world underground music scene of the late 80s and early 90s.

"The BBC Sessions" is available here.

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