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This week we have a guest contributor, Barry Stelboum. He’s had a life-long love affair with music of all kinds and did a stint as a music journalist writing for Spin and other entertainment publications. He is an accomplished photographer and aspiring filmmaker. He is currently the drummer and sometime bass player for the Brooklyn based band called The Occasionalists (with my cousin Mark V.) that specializes in live karaoke performances. When he’s not indulging in his creative outlets, he heads up the Legal Department for a big New York ad agency.
Back in the day, I’d often wander into Sounds, a now sadly departed used record store on St. Marks Place in the East Village. I used to spend hours in the store looking for obscure gems and cheap .99 cent cut-outs on which I’d take chance. One day in 1990, I saw this album featuring a cover with a beautifully eerie photo of a huge jellyfish. The record was called Submarine Bells by a band called The Chills, about whom I knew nothing. There was something about the whole package that made me think that there was going to be something interesting inside. So, I dropped my hard earned $2.99 to see if I’d be right. In short, it was love at first sound.
The album’s opening track is this week’s Song of the Week, “Heavenly Pop Hit.”
The song opens with a splashy organ riff that sounds like it was recorded in an underwater church. Within seconds, drums, guitar, bass and the indescribably unique vocals of Martin Phillips join to create an instantaneously catchy melody that immediately draws you in. You’re hooked before you even get to the impossibly catchy “Dum de dum dum, It’s a heavenly pop hit” chorus, complete with an angelic chorus of male and female voices that elevate the listener to pop music heaven. Like so many of my favorite albums, the overall sound matches the eerie album cover art (Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath may be the most perfect example of this match), with fluid bass and guitar lines, flowing melodies, and dreamy and otherworldly vocals that somehow feel like that jellyfish floating through the sea.
While it garnered some critical praise and a bit of a minor underground/college following in the US, the album reached #1 on the New Zealand album charts and cemented The Chills status as the godfathers of the New Zealand music scene. Those initial keyboard sounds of “Heavenly Pop Hit” literally opened a whole new music scene for me and, after wearing out the grooves of Submarine Bells, led me to the discovery of countless other great NZ bands, beloved in their homeland, but unknown here, including The Clean, The Verlaines, The Bats, Tall Dwarves and others.
Enjoy… until next week.