The Chills: Scatterbrain – album reviewThe Chills: Scatterbrain

(Fire Records)

LP | CD | DL

Released May 14th 2021


For over forty years now, New Zealanders The Chills have been a band who have inspired a cultish following. If not a name immediately associated with commercial success, they have certainly inspired and influenced many. With frontman Martin Phillips the consistent heart of the band through their various evolutions over the decades, his well-documented obsessions with intensity and conviction should ensure a new album from The Chills is always something worthy of attention.

The acclaimed 2019 documentary film The Chills: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Martin Phillips, demonstrating Phillips knack for turning triumph into adversity, further cements their reputation. So, where does a band like this go from here, at this stage?

Well, if Scatterbrain is anything to go by, they go big. And no, I don’t mean they turn into volume-cranking stadium rockers. I mean they take themes which are both suitably huge but similarly, like the band themselves, tied to thoughtfulness and at times cultish thought patterns. Magick and mysticism ooze from Scatterbrain’s every pore from the opening note. Opener and single Monolith is a vintage-filtered gem which feels like having a secret whispered into the listener’s ear, and lays the foundation for Scatterbrain, to prove that The Chills are very much still creating their finest works.

With lyrics about wisdom and the power of ancient stones, it’s the beginning of a beautiful trip Phillips takes the listener down. From here, it frequently gets more personal in a dark and emotive way. “Dark times/nothing to say/ Black holes draining the light away,” sings Phillips on Hourglass, whereas Caught In My Eye tackles the numbness of turmoil with refreshing honesty. Weaving in and out of all this throughout are those huge issues – free will and determinism, illusion, the relationship between us and something wider…

Communicating these themes is done in a way that stays true to The Chills sound over the years. The likes of Hourglass and Little Alien feel intimate while sacrificing nothing, like reading volumes of ancient philosophy in a small bedroom. Closer The Walls Beyond Abandon is a song for standing at the edge of the world, marching triumphantly there but not without carrying layers of fragility with it, flag in hand but one carrying an unnamed coat of arms for human nature and neurosis. There’s something deeply universal in it all.

Scatterbrain, then, is anything but. Consistently maintaining its sound throughout, it’s a cohesive record of huge themes, which will no doubt not only be a joy to long term fans, but create many a new one as well.

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All words by Amy Britton. Read more on her archive.


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Notts born and bred contributor to Louder than War since 2011. Loves critical theory and Situationism and specialises in cultural "thought pieces" and features, on music, film and wider pop culture.


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