Search for “Kaleidoscope World” and you’ll find links to a Filipino rapper and an album of toothless, bland 80s pop by Swing Out Sister but it takes some digging before you find mention of the Chills’ first LP release. It’s a travesty but illustrates the low-key nature and cult hero status of the Chills. Persevere and you’ll discover one of the key New Zealand bands, rooted in post-punk and Syd Barrett-psychedelia married to great off-kilter and dark-tinged pop.
Kaleidoscope World is a collection of singles and compilation tracks, including their tracks from the Dunedin Double EP that lit the fuse for Flying Nun. Originally an 8 track vinyl release (it came out here on Creation Records), it was expanded on CD to 18 tracks and this release follows that track listing, with a bonus 6 outtakes, demos and live songs. The title track sums up the attraction of the Chills, combining Velvet Underground rhythms with Syd Barrett-style sci-fi philosophising. It’s a love song with more than a hint of sadness: artistic, imaginative, colourful, moody and poetic. The record also includes some of the best Chills tracks ever. ‘Pink Frost’ is generally held to be their masterpiece: a haunted post-punk death-tale that’s built from chirruping guitars, bouncy basslines and weightless keyboards. Yet the lovelorn ‘Doledrums’ is its equal, full of chugging rhythms, quirky melodies and a soaring chorus, while ‘Rolling Moon’ has a punk-inspired momentum and the magnificent ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ is celebratory and anthemic, even though the subject is the death of a close friend.
The other side of the Chills is represented here too, from the nightclub noir of ‘Purple Girl’ to ‘Flamethrower’’s Barrett-like sing-song rhythms and the medieval tones of ‘Dream By Dream’. The extras include a rowdy version of ‘Oncoming Day’, full of punk ferocity, and the punk-poppy ‘Smile From A Dead Dead Face’.
The 24 tracks show the attraction of the Chills’ melodic pop but also capture that sense of otherness (they were, after all, from next door to Antarctica) that restricted them to being critical favourites. But thirty years later, the strength and purity of that original Chills vision still shines strong, the power and influence of these songs (I swear that ‘Hidden Boy’ is Blur, only 20 years early) remaining undiminished. Every half-decent collection should include Kaleidoscope World (not the Swing Out Sister one though).