It would be easy to get confused about the provenance of Kiwi Jr. Sounds like they might be from New Zealand by name and that they are U.S. alternative maybe math rock by their gait. Yet they hail from the colder north and have more upstairs than the other side of the Niagara Falls.
Let’s call it… an upgrade on North American slacker rock. Yes, they’re Canadian (Toronto based) but that still makes them from the same continent as their southern cousins. However, they understand sarcasm, can write clever, funny lyrics and don’t take themselves completely seriously.
There is also a nod to some of the better purveyors of the style, such as Weezer, Fountains of Wayne and Nada Surf.
Those beautiful days in the mid-nineties, the sun always shone on the east coast, Clerks, Mallrats, Empire Records, were household names and Hollywood A-Listers cut their teeth in indie movies with brilliant soundtracks, normally directed by Kevin Smith.
To continue the 90’s rhetoric, there is more than a passing resemblance to Ben Folds Five, the irreverent rhyming couplets that you weren’t sure if you should take seriously but damn if they weren’t infectious and catchy.
Now signed to legendary Sub Pop Records, this, Cooler Returns, is their second LP but first on a big label, after Football Money first appeared in 2019 but was only pressed on wax early last year before the sky fell in.
‘Tyler’ rambunctiously kicks things offs, a barrage of non-sequiturs that basically doesn’t let up for the entire record. Who is Tyler? Will we find out? Do we even care when it sounds like this. An ascending chord progression that then drops before bursting back out your speakers “carry me, Tyler, I’m caught in between/off-colour comics on a slow green”. Where as their previous record dealt with a jumble of decidedly West Atlantic cultural landmarks, straight from the off here they have been to Britain’s grey and tarmacked inner city areas: “bury me, Tyler, but like it or not/they dug King Richard up in a parking lot”.
In fact, the history of these despicable isles crops up again as soon as track three, ‘Maid Marian Toast’, although any similarities to the mythical beau of Robin Hood starts and ends there. Dissecting the lyrics is a fairly thankless task but it appears this Marian may serve them in a restaurant in Toronto. Although Sherwood Forest does make an appearance on ‘Cooler Returns’ where a ranger retires because of “falconers complex”.
The band Pavement is used in connection with Kiwi Jr in almost everything you read about them, but with only a very slight appreciation of them, I won’t be using that lazy comparison. Not least because there’s much much more to their sound.
As I very lethargically stated at the beginning, there is a semblance of slacker rock but mainly due to the vocal delivery of Jeremy Gaudet. Musically the guitars can sound extremely reminiscent of Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi especially on the outro to the title track and on ‘Omaha’, but there’s also honky-tonk piano lower in the mix on most songs as if they had borrowed Elton John circa 1971 to lay down some Tumbleweed Connection lines. There’s harmonica subtly in there somewhere, and on latest single ‘Waiting in Line’ there is a Hammond Organ.
Ultimately, these guys just have a penchant for stringing together melodies and chord progressions and middle eights that make your want to dance about singing the silly words as your heart sores a bit as you prance about your kitchen waiting for the banana bread to rise. There’s not a single slice of filler here and there’s thirteen tracks where they could have lacked a bit of flavouring or something else about food that works as a metaphor for a slightly dud track. There isn’t one because this a fucking delicious cake of an album. One you eat all of and then eat again and again until you’re full and maybe feel a bit sick but would put on again because it’s so good but you have to do something else or go out or watch Bake Off on the telly.
As the country begins to queue patiently like only us Brits can (not observing social distancing and generally moaning and muttering that we’ve been waiting for fucking hours when it’s really been no where near that) Kiwi Jr are sending over the kind of shot in the arm we actually need to lift those moods from the doldrums where they linger and fester till black and mouldy. Because even a few tracks from this utter beauty of an LP and you’re grinning like the richest of those Alderley Edge Cheshire Fat Cats locking down in their palatials with indoor swimming pools and home cinema rooms. And big ovens to cook lots of cake and banana bread.