Being added to the notable list of Peel Sessions recordings along with the likes of The Smiths, The Cure and New Order, is no small feat for New Zealand band The Chills. Covering their three recordings with former Radio 1 DJ John Peel from 1985-88, the album spans the dramatic changes in the band line up, with lead singer and songwriter Martin Phillipps as the only original member. Gearing up for the release of a new album predicted for next year, seems to be the reasoning behind this sudden unearthing of the recordings. The album however does not go for obvious choices in terms of highlighting the band’s moments of greatest commercial success, choosing to omit the aptly named “Heavenly Pop Hit,” their first hit in the US following being signed to Slash records. Instead the album charts their beginnings in relative anonymity with the first session from 1985 covering tracks from first record “Brave Words,” to the 1988 session tracks that comprises their better known albums and compilations.
Their relative success was noted as being part of a small group of artists that ushered in an alternative jangly-guitared 80s pop named the Dunedin Sound, after their home city in New Zealand. As one of the earliest exponents of this niche sound, it is thought to have influenced the bigger successes of bands like R.E.M. Even if listeners are unfamiliar with this surprisingly vast history behind such a little-known band, the chiming guitars and slightly psychedelic pop melodies fit unmistakably with 80s indie pop.
Lyrically there is also that same kind of brooding and melancholic feeling associated with indie pop of the era. The title track of first album “Brave Words” is a precise example of this, as Phillipps mulls over the kind of indifference he associates with settling down in life; “I mean does apathy come with age? Cos I’d rather go down fighting…Instead of watching the wrinkles go deeper.” Alternatively “Wet Blanket” shows much lighter and simpler songwriting from Phillipps. “Night of Blue Chill” continues with the brooding, gloomy theme but this time through a building, echoing melody.
“Living in a Jungle” as part of the 1987 recording period reflects a complete shift to a jauntier, almost frantic version, of their jangly guitar sound. “Moonlight on Flesh” hopes to flaunt the band’s instrumental strengths with a sort of unnerving swishing sound but doesn’t really do so much as to adding to this catalogue of work but more as a brief interlude between the striking changes in sound. “Part Past, Part Fiction” if compared with “Brave Words” is its more upbeat successor and so is easily associated with the album Submarine Bells under US label Slash. The first track from the album Rolling Moon is suitably the clearest example of the successes Peel predicted and of the nostalgia Phillipps is arguably trying to evoke for this cult dunedian band.