Release Date: Jan 22, 2021
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Noise Pop
Kiwi Jr.'s 2019 debut, Football Money, was a long-labored triumph of intellectual slacker pop, burying nods to obscure influences under a whirlwind of bounding hooks. The brief album from the Toronto quartet flew by in a dazzled rush, with the energy of the first Modern Lovers' record juxtaposed with lazy, Pavement-esque melodies and lyrical barrages that were stuffed to capacity with esoteric references and culture-jamming imagery. Sophomore album Cooler Returns is much the same, but feels ever so slightly more refined, allowing the band's unique stew of influences and reference points a little more room to gel.
That Kiwi Jr have followed up last year's charming debut so quickly - even in the middle of a pandemic - feels about right; there's a breeziness to their brand of indie rock that suggests it's something they're able to knock out effortlessly. That's deceptive, though; there was plenty of depth to 'Football Money' and even more to 'Cooler Returns', an endearingly ramshackle pop-rock affair that suggests they managed to do something unthinkable with their 2020 - had a lot of fun. The same basic blueprint that the Canadian four-piece laid down on 'Football Money' forms the crux of 'Cooler Returns', too, albeit with the occasional flash of polish here and the odd augmentation of the arrangements there; the furious riffery of the title track feels like new territory (and will do nothing to dampen down comparisons to Parquet Courts), while 'Only Here for a Haircut' is inflected with country hallmarks, including slide guitar and harmonica.
At a glance, Kiwi Jr. 's music scans as a retro revival of '60s pop sweetness and '90s slacker rock swagger -- especially since frontman Jeremy Gaudet's drawling sing-speak sounds unmistakably like Stephen Malkmus. But pull their songs apart and you'll discover a surrealist sense of adventure.
Assembled in "flow state" during the first stages of quarantine, Cooler Returns plays out like a vast, sprawling stream of consciousness that's nearly impossible to keep up with at times; a long-form narrative littered with observed and imagined characters, urban legends and work-from-home distraction headlines as frontman Jeremy Gaudet, in typically impressionistic form, daydreams his way out of drudgery with tales of musician exes, local arson, political apathy and more. Rattling through earworm after earworm, Gaudet's wry observations and lyrical anecdotes hold the whole album together and they immediately dig deeper than before. Opening single "Tyler", a Kinksian slice of power pop about ditching the frontman balances their trademark sharp humour ("I was falling apart in the green room / while you drank half the headliner's rider") with a tinge of wistfulness ("you work for Microsoft / I scrape the wallpaper off in the new guest bedroom") Against the backdrop of the pandemic-infused 'Terrible Twenties', they are more acerbic and abstract than ever.
Toronto's Kiwi Jr. don't just wear their influences on their sleeves; they've got them screen printed on their t-shirts. Pavement comparisons were in abundance for their 2019 debut, Football Money, and here on their sophomore effort, Cooler Returns, the band doesn't shrink from that. The Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain references are front and center on the opening Tyler, as band leader Jeremy Gaudet regales of backstage shenanigans: "I was falling apart in the green room, while you drank half the headliner's rider." And the later, Only Here For a Haircut, references, well, a haircut.
Kiwi Jr.'s Jeremy Gaudet has a gentle voice that naturally tempers his barbed observations. Over the course of the band's second album Cooler Returns, he takes passing shots at office drones, art school students, film school rejects, cancel-culture alarmists, sports bros, people who care too much and people who care too little--really anybody who lives an unexamined or over-examined life. And yet for all the judgement in his lyrics, you never hear contempt in his voice, which carries the unflappable quippiness of Stephen Malkmus and wry astonishment of Jonathan Richman.
Canadian indie rockers Kiwi Jr. scored a touchdown at the beginning of 2020 when they dropped their debut album, Football Money , finding fans at both ends of the Atlantic with their effortlessly cool attitude and melodic charming tracks drawing comparisons with Pavement and even The Strokes. The Sub Pop signees (always a clear indication of quality) are back with second album Cooler Returns , which addresses the lackluster lives of dejected youth of the West through a wry romantic sepia tinged lens.
Kiwi Jr. 's self-released debut album 'Football Money' arrived just last year. In our 8/10 review, we described it as "one of those rare albums that gets better the more you play it.