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Kiwi Jr. - Cooler Returns (Album Review)

Wednesday, 27 January 2021 Written by Huw Baines

Indie-rock is full of carefully disguised traps designed to ensnare posers and almost-there tribute acts: bands can be too clever, or too dumb, sound too much like their influences, or sound too little like themselves after a couple of records. By accident or design Kiwi Jr. stray into these crosshairs all the time, but whenever the moment to pull the trigger strikes they ricochet off into some other thing entirely.

With their second album, ‘Cooler Returns’, they prove themselves adept at evoking Jonathan Richman’s speak-sing poppiness and the antic jangle of Parquet Courts, anchoring each segue to singer Jeremy Gaudet’s slate of zingers and sharp hooks.

It’s non-stop: potentially obnoxious but actually funny and smart. Indie catnip, basically. “You take a photo of the CN Tower, you take another of the Honest Ed's sign,” he intones on the single Undecided Voters. “While I take photos of your photos, and they really move people I know online.”

Crucially, the Toronto group have adapted their approach to take in a more expansive palette during the short interval between the release of their 2019 debut ‘Football Money’ and the here and now. That record looks a little like Kiwi Jr. rendered in pencil by comparison.

On ‘Cooler Returns’, Only Here For a Haircut has a rootsy base that almost forces Gaudet to slow down for a second, while the opener Tyler displays a neat line in barroom piano. With Highlights of 100 Kiwi Jr. go hard at an organ line straight from Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve’s ‘Get Happy!!’ playbook and pull it off.

Frequently, the challenge is to keep up. But that’s also undeniably part of the record’s appeal. It’s on all the time, never too far from a winking aside or a melody that makes you realise how much effort has gone into making Gaudet’s contributions appear carefree and tossed off. ‘Cooler Returns’ is everything you might expect from a band like Kiwi Jr., and so much more.


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