The Chills' 'Snow Bound' Captures the Pathways Leading to Emotional Growth and Awareness
The Chills' Snow Bound musically captures the band's depth and versatility while demonstrating their creativity and willingness to embrace new directions.
14 September 2018
The first incarnation of the Chills debuted nearly 40 years ago. With a mid-career 19-year hiatus, the Chills returned in 2015 with the coveted and critically acclaimed LP Silver Bullets. The internet's whispers suspected another lengthy break between records, but thankfully that wasn't the case. In September, the Chills released Snow Bound, and the album takes the band to a neoteric musical territory. The lyrics are optimistic and auspicious, a completely different approach from the Chills' standard oeuvre. In the album's press release, lead singer and songwriter Martin Phillips' describes the album as "a kind of Carole King Tapestry for aging punks". Indeed, Phillips' lyrics span from retching to uplifting while consistently underscored by the hopefulness developed from maturity, redemption, and the belief of a favorable future.
Snow Bound parades a positive and shockingly optimistic energy. Previously, the Chills infrequently candied their music or lyrics, often presenting malaise with a relatable candor. For fans of "Pink Frost", a song about accidentally killing a lover, the recent optimism is at first unnerving. Yet as the opening track unfolds, it positions Snow Bound as distinctive and winsome. The album begins with "Bad Sugar", equipped with an infectiously catchy beat supporting the bouncy refrain "even bad sugar makes bitter taste sweet". The instrumentation's liveliness clearly demarcates the music as the sweetness over the embittered lyrics: "Yes, I know they have nowhere to go / Or their Lord is ignoring their prayer / But when they're hiding their heads in the sand / Then it seems they've been damned — by their very own hand." Despite the nimble and vivacious music, the acrimonious lyrics recall the Chills of yesteryear.
Phillips exhibits a changed mindset and the subsequent enduring work necessary to achieve growth. "Scarred" demonstrates the longevity of pain but also that advocating for oneself is paramount: "I'm not candy you can sample and discard / You barely scratched my surface, and I'm scarred / It's just too hard / I'm not candy you can sample and discard." Likewise, "Complex" finds Phillips plaintively contending "I'm not the man you think I am / I'm a complex — piece of the plan". Snow Bound concretizes Phillips' proclamation that those who know him, or more accurately, think they know him, have 'barely scratched his surface'.
The process leading to self-discovery is often marked with visitations to past transgressions. On "Easy Peasy" Phillips alludes to these transgressions while working towards redemption: "Now we have dark days / We just count our losses / Hearing hard lines from hurt times / Those cold words that cut us / So then we seek peace and easing." Poignantly, the Chills see past errors as an unavoidable condition in making progress. As Phillips reflects on "Time to Atone", "We made mistakes and we / Caused heart-ache / Woke up — it was time to atone." The repetition of the lyrics 'a time to atone' emphasizes making amends rather than wallowing in wrongdoing. Todd Knudson's percussion renders the call to atone more akin to a battle cry rather than a wistful plea.
"Deep Belief" documents Phillips' journey out of deep depression and addiction to today's more hopeful manifestation. As he laments, "I was tired out — not running at all / I was hiding — guarding my haul / But I was tracked down — backed against the wall". Despite this enervation, an optimism rings through the track when he sings "Now do I believe — believe / Do I believe - believe… Some belief - some deep belief". Yet there is an apparent sense of wariness about the new outlook. The mention of 'some deep belief' construes convictions as abstract, almost as if the mindset is still burgeoning. After all, the act of emotional regrouping takes time, and the progression is never linear.
The Chills' previous releases brimmed with political indignation. Yet Snow Bound leans towards paucity as references to the current political climate are scattered throughout. "Scarred" opens with the lyrics "It's a tall order - a wall across my border For a lost cause - keeping peace and order" reflecting unpopular political diatribes. Similarly, "Complex" references military conquests in which "we used fear - all forts manned for invasion / They then fell - enslaved billions made a breakaway / Now there's will - all shades build a fairer nation". Oli Wilson's organ is subtle but endows the track with a sinister energy. The lyrics are vague enough, so any of the half-baked global military strategies causing mass resettlement. But it is "In Harmony" that captures the current political ennui and perseverance: "In harmony / We hear of their crimes / While sharing hard times / Yet we still believe in harmony." The inclusion of 'we still' is both flippant and heartfelt as the lyrics imply wasting optimism while maintaining a semblance of positivism regardless of violence and adversity. The rolling keyboards musically reaffirm the suggestion that sanguineness is in reach.
The album's last lyrics are "believe in harmony" concretizing a confidence and expectancy of faith. Snow Bound musically captures the band's depth and versatility while demonstrating their creativity and willingness to embrace new directions. Snow Bound impeccably captures the pathways leading to emotional growth and awareness. The optimism suits the Chills and makes for an invigorating album.