Review: Kiwi Jr, “Cooler Returns”

Kiwi Jr - Cooler Returns

Slacker-style indie rock is cool(er) again with Kiwi Jr’s second full-length release.

Toronto’s Kiwi Jr are in that sweet spot in-between being well known and being too popular to be cool.  I first heard of them from a CBC tweet for their single “Domino,” a jangly, toe-tapping throwback to the late 90’s and early 00’s.  After streaming the single a couple of times, I had to get the record.  I went to my local record stores’ online system and had them place a hold on the “Cooler Returns” LP, before I hopped on my bike and rode down an hour later.  While there, I noticed that Kiwi Jr’s first record from 2020, “Football Money,” was also in stock.  So happy to find a new band to love, I bought them both.  It’s great when you discover a band.  It’s ALSO great when you find a band and they already have a backlog of songs to check out.  This not going to be an unbiased appraisal.  This is an unabashed, glowing salutation for a record I’ve loved since the first note.

“Cooler Returns” combines Pavement’s slacker version of noisy guitar rock with a bit of twee-pop of The Shins.  Have you caught me sentimental for my youth?  Absolutely.  However, middle-age isn’t a requirement to appreciate this record.  My nostalgia isn’t just because of a familiar sound and style, there’s an exuberance and energy in Kiwi Jr’s songs that have me remembering how much fun listening to a record can be.

The lyrics from singer Jeremy Gaudet are like funny diary entries set to the beat of the song.  Contrary to most pop lyrics, his lines don’t always rhyme, and rarely ever have a ‘chorus’ of a few repeated words to worm their way into your brain (“Undecided Voters” being a strong exception to this rule).  Songs are infused with little jokes and funny observations in affable monologues.  Going back to my Pavement comparison, Gaudet’s vocal delivery of these literate lines is slightly-monotone-slightly-nasal.  Very reminiscent of one Stephen Malkmus.

Kiwi Jr

A term like ‘slacker’ can give the wrong impression.  I don’t mean to give a sense this group isn’t trying.  They just don’t seem to try TOO hard.  There’s an effortless passion in the songs.  If you dig a little deeper and listen closely though, you’ll hear well executed harmonies, excited guitar leads, versatile drumming and melodious bass lines.  This group sounds like they’ve practiced their craft to perfection.  They utilized time in the studio too.  The piano notes on opening track, “Tyler” for example, are a perfect addition to flesh out the sound.

There are many similarities one could draw between Kiwi Jr and another Canadian group who made a splash last decade: Alvvays.  If you like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like the other. One reason has to be guitarist Brian Murphy, who’s in both bands!?  Well done, Brian!

It may be early to call this my ‘album of the summer,’ but with sunny times ahead and finally an opportunity for fully-vaccinated get-togethers with friends, this is certainly a record I’m excited to share with everyone I know.

Check out: “Tyler,” “Undecided Voters,” “Domino” … and the rest of the record.

Both of their LPs are available through Sub Pop, your local record store or bandcamp: https://kiwijr.bandcamp.com/album/cooler-returns

Photo Credit: Warren Calbeck

A bit of a Renaissance man, Steve Murphy is a singer-songwriter, author, and journalist based out of London, Ontario. An avid vinyl collector and audiophile, his personal collection of albums is wide ranging and in the thousands, including four released from his band Westminster Park.

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