by Jo Higgs
The Toronto band discuss their story led second record, Cooler Returns – a sorely needed burst of serotonin for 2021
Finally, we’ve escaped the torrential hell of 2020. Yes, everything is pretty much exactly the same. But with a new year comes new gems that glisten from within the murk, providing just a little bit of well-needed respite. While jangle-punk might not be most people’s idea of the form that respite should come in, Kiwi Jr.’s second album, Cooler Returns, works in a soothing manner that stimulates lovely bursts of serotonin in just the way we all need. Its bouncing instrumentals and chirpy, though often sardonic lyrics promise to worm their way into a place of surprising importance for the ears of many.
Cooler Returns is the Canadian band’s first release since signing to the legendary Seattle-based label, Sub Pop. While they are proud of being able to put such a legendary logo on their record sleeve, they stress that they don’t want to ‘flex that sorta thing,’ and that while they are now by virtue under the same proverbial umbrella as a number of high-profile acts, both past and present, they’re not exactly ‘drinking cocktails with like… Father John Misty or whoever.’ They put forth a down to earth attitude that should soon see them revered as indie-punk darlings when considered in tandem with the magnificence of Cooler Returns.
While never leaning dangerously close to any pre-existing sounds that could invoke calls of ‘rip off’, their influences are worn boldly on their sleeves throughout both their new record, and their 2020 debut, Football Money. Lyrical and sonic references to Elton John hit the nail on the head in Norma Jean’s Jacket, while they express a deliberate intent to reach a Highway 61-esque Bob Dylan sound on Waiting In Line. The wailing organ and plinky-plonk piano certainly attest to the success of this.
When it comes to writing, they not-quite-unashamedly admit that their process almost entirely revolves around ‘four straight white guys in their early 30s yelling at each other about drum fills going into choruses sounding too much – or not enough – like Creedence Clearwater Revival.’ And while it isn’t too hard to imagine this scenario being the propellant of most of their compositions, the lyrics carried by the melodies of singer, Jeremy Gaudet, seem to come from a more stereotypically thoughtful process. Listeners may notice a prevalent theme of named characters within the lyrical stories of both Kiwi Jr. albums. Album opener, Tyler, is a great example of what the band describe as trying ‘to put a storytelling angle to our “particular flavour” of indie rock. It helps if the characters have names’. Further, the band state simply ‘it’s fun to sing about other people’. A statement they quickly tie back to their aforementioned love of Bob Dylan – the gold standard of character-led songs.
On their powerful sing-along single, Undecided Voters, the band make what is perhaps an unintentionally potent statement. The ease of aligning this politically charged tune with America’s recent presidential election is tempting, but the band clarify that while it is, of course, applicable to what’s been happening down south (down south from them in Canada, anyway), it is more loosely about elections as a whole as they are endlessly present in world politics. ‘I wanted to set a song at a school, and it took this political bend by the end of it, and the closest thing I can compare to in my opinion is the Reese Witherspoon movie Election.’
With this new year bearing more of the same stuff as the last, albeit new increasingly absurd strains of it, hopefully, at some point the band will have the chance to tour this fantastic album. Until then, we can only enjoy the privilege of listening to it as released. And as if to provide a distraction from all the ongoing tumult, the band would like to end on a question certainly less pondered upon this year than those of political and pandemical nature: ‘Why is everybody suddenly obsessed with the Grateful Dead?’
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