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
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
[Jersey Beat's Paul Silver had a slightly different
reaction. Read his review here.]
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.
THE CHILLS, AS LONG AS IT TAKES!
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