Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

by Joe Merklee

The latest in Omnivore Records ongoing Game Theory reissue series is the 1987 double album LOLITA NATION.

I was initially taken aback by this album in 1987 as it seemed like such an abrupt departure from their previous work. The overall sound was much harder edged and some sound collages and really short songs were interspersed with more conventional ones. I had not heard it in ages as my original vinyl version was ruined in a badly flooded basement. Hearing it all again after so many years was a revelation. Here was a band firing on all cylinders. Anyone who was fortunate enough to have heard this lineup live could vouch for the fact that they were capable of rocking as hard as anyone while being skilled enough to deliver on the more understated songs.

I never knew Scott Miller but I always got the feeling that he was probably the brightest person in just about any room he walked in to. Game Theory albums reward repeated listenings and I’m sure that I haven’t uncovered anything close to what he put in to them. That’s never been more true than on LOLITA NATION- an album that references everything from James Joyce to Star Trek. Even a fragment of one of the sound collages titled, ”Vacuum Genesis” sparks wonder. In it, Miller sings the Genesis song “Illegal Alien” over a vacuum cleaner. Is the title a big bang reference? Does his singing that song over a vacuum mean that he thinks it sucks? Both? My love of really short songs can be traced to this album. The really short entries here don’t feel fragmented or incomplete- just remarkably concise. To dwell on the album’s stranger leanings would be to overlook the fact that it contains many of Miller’s best songs- the exquisite,”We Love You Carol and Allison”, the rocking, unpredictable,”The Waist and the Knees”, the insanely catchy, ”Chardonnay” and perhaps my all time favorite Game Theory song-“Nothing New”. It’s striking how well this album is constructed. In this day and age of short attention spans and ipod shuffles, here is a double album deserving of your undivided attention. I invite you to listen to it start to finish and tell me that you didn’t find yourself getting choked up by the end of, ”Together Now, Very Minor”.

As with the other albums in this series, the entire package is first rate. The album sounds amazing. I wonder if producers have favorite albums. It’d be interesting to see where Mitch Easter would place this – he’s never done better. The liner notes contain photos and recollections of many of the people involved. The bonus disc opens with the original, nearly 8 minute long version of “Chardonnay” and closes with the previously unreleased beauty,”Choose Between Two Sons”. In between there’s a wealth of demos, alternate takes and live clips, including covers of everyone from The Hollies to The Sex Pistols.

It’s true that in 1987 they didn’t deliver what I was expecting. They delivered something better. LOLITA NATION is a brilliantly written, expertly executed masterpiece.

The Chills- Silver Bullets (Fire Records)

by Joe Merklee

Decades ago I read a Martin Phillipps interview in which he stated that his motto was, “The Chills- as long as it takes”. He couldn’t possibly have foreseen how the ensuing years would unfold- A string of albums consistent in both their brilliance and their inability to find a large audience, ongoing difficulties keeping a stable lineup together, depression, substance abuse, serious health issues. The fact that The Chills even exist in 2015 is remarkable. That they’ve produced an album as compelling as SILVER BULLETS is cause for celebration.

The album opens with the ominous, atmospheric,” Father Time” built around samples of Phillipps’ father’s voice. Echoed guitars introduce “Warm Waveform”, a moving paean to physical love. The band first shifts into high gear on the title track and there can be no mistaking the fact that this really is a band as opposed to a group of sessions musicians. Phillipps, Erica Scally,James Dickson,Oli Wilson and Todd Knudsen are a talented group of multi instrumentalists who have been playing together for years. In their hands, these songs soar.

Phillipps’ melodic gifts are intact and a number of the lyrics are more urgent and topical than you might expect to find on a Chills record. The centerpiece of the album is the 8 minute,”Pyramid/ Until the Poor Can Reach the Moon”. The song deals with wealth inequality and people struggling to get by in a system that seems to be increasingly stacked against them. It starts off bleakly with lines like,” Don’t ask us to dream just to be part of your scheme. Why should we try when you would just watch us die”. It gets darker and heavier from there- “We know how you live, we smell what you eat”. In the midst of all the darkness, something startling happens- the song abruptly shifts gears and becomes a rapturous pop tune. The effect is striking, like a weight has been lifted. The sense of relief and hope is palpable. It’s not a naive optimism that doesn’t know any better but an optimism that’s hard won by persevering through misfortune. The highs are all the sweeter because of the lows that have been endured.

I can recall being an impressionable 20-something year old in the audience of a Chills show at Maxwell’s, feeling like I wanted to be Martin Phillipps when I grew up. (The lyrics to “Song for Randy Newman,etc” are inscribed on the pick guard of my telecaster). I can say now,as a slightly more worldly 50-something year old that we should all be so lucky to creatively age as well as The Chills have. SILVER BULLETS is a triumph that stands comfortably alongside their finest work. Here’s hoping that we’re fortunate enough to hear more from them.


[Jersey Beat's Paul Silver had a slightly different reaction. Read his review here.] is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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