Album: Kiwi Jr. – Cooler Returns review

by Craig Howieson

Tearing pages from the archives to create a scrapbook that is very much their own, Kiwi Jr. treat us to a record stuffed with an embarrassment of riches on second album, Cooler Returns

Many bands starting out will trawl through the pages of musical history, trying on the various guises of those who have come before them to see what fits. It was evident from the debut record of Toronto’s Kiwi Jr. that the band were well-read when it came to the American alternative rock of the late 80s and early 90s, as well as the C86 mixtape. Choking with the melodious warmth of R.E.M. and the scratchy playfulness of Pavement, it was a record of superbly crafted jangle-pop that contained more than enough depth to warrant repeated listens.

While some embarking on their musical excavation find their niche, stick in the bookmark, and repeat ad infinitum, Kiwi Jr. have continued to turn back the pages. Now just twelve months – and a move to Sub Pop – later, the group have returned with their follow up, Cooler Returns. For fans of their scratchily loveable debut, this thankfully still sounds like the same band that made Football Money. But the group have succeeded in unearthing new rooms in their basement – piling them high with serotonin infused lashings of The Velvet Underground, the tight night soft rock of The Band, and the wonky splutter and starts of Talking Heads. 

Cooler Returns thrusts with a rhythmic urgency, boasting a danceability and groove rarely found in a band who have refused to trade their guitars for synthesisers. Like their contemporaries Nap Eyes and Parquet Courts, their songs bounce and zing, shaking like the restless legs of a defendant in the dock. 

Steeped in winding stories and curious characters, frontman Jeremy Gaudet’s lyrics are topical and atypical, dripping with cynicism and wit, and seemingly cast off lines of genuine connection. From a chastising snippet on social media dynamics – ‘you take a photo of the CN Tower / you take another of the Honest Ed’s sign  / while I take photos of your photos / and they really move people I know online’ – on Undecided Voters, a track which also references the Glasgow Art School fires, to outrunning an irate mob after trashing a wedding (‘the whole damned jamboree / comes swinging after me’) on Nashville Wedding, Gaudet provides plenty of intrigue. But his Lou Reed aping impenetrability does slip at times, as we glimpse altogether more tender moments – ‘if we can’t even comfort our own / then why ever go back home?’ (Omaha)

What makes Cooler Returns such a joy to listen to is the sheer abundance of brilliant moments. From the tinkle of barroom piano that closes out Dodger, creating an urge to shed your shirt and tie and kick the glasses off the table to dance on, to the sun-drenched 60s pop backing vocals of opener Tyler. Each new spin rewards you for your return visit.

Kiwi Jr. wield a dystopic nostalgia, providing comfort in their homage to the past, while disarming listeners aboard their newfangled voyages. For a band so adept at taking the best parts of the music they love and making it their own, you can almost guarantee they will keep their reading glasses on while continuing to pen a few new pages for the archives.

If you’d like to read more from Kiwi Jr. – check out our interview with the band here.

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