ALBUMS: Krazy About Kiwi Jr.

Cooler Returns is a monolith of craft and command, the most pleasurable and consistent power-pop to emanate from indie-rock in years

Kiwi Jr. (Art: Ron Hart)

The Pavement analogies wash; they’re smart-alecks who command the same minor-alt market share, maybe even that about-to-crack voice yelp.

But Kiwi Jr. have left most traces of Stephen Malkmus’ inside-baseballism on their buzzed 2019 debut Football Money (sample non-sequitur: “I am a salary man / I want cigarettes from Japan that taste like oranges”), which was still more jangle-pop than slacker-noise.

Kiwi Jr. Cooler Returns, Sub Pop 2021

Where even the hookiest Pavement songs were in no rush to find their center, Kiwi Jr.’s archly sarcastic power-pop always points flashing neon signs at each mile-high chorus. (Even “Salary Man” threw in a bar of “Sloop John B.”) And Pavement never deployed, much less constantly leaned on harmonica, an instrument closely associated with sincerity.

But the title of the Canadian group’s second album tells it like it is; more than a mere breakthrough, Cooler Returns is monolith of craft and command, the most pleasurable and consistent power-pop to emanate from indie-rock in years.

Artist: Kiwi Jr.

Album: Cooler Returns

Label: Sub Pop Records

★★★★ 1/2 (4.5/5 stars)

It’s hard to tell what’s wittier, Jeremy Gaudet’s lyrics or his melodies, and if that makes you think Elvis Costello, get excited. Nearly half the tight-wound tunes break three minutes and none four, and the first single demonstrates what makes them so special. Borrowing a phrase that you don’t need to be a jaded indie-rocker to be smug about — “Undecided Voters” — Gaudet’s palpable joy at turning it into a fist-pumping repetition comes through. Which isn’t to say the song isn’t a constant stream of Malkmus-sharpened darts:  “I take photos of your photos and they really move people I know online.” It’s just that  the exuberant harmonica cracking through the mix and the Steve Nieve-style countermelody finish share the star billing.


VIDEO: Kiwi Jr. “Undecided Voters”

The momentum is breathtaking: You’d never know the centerpiece “Cooler Returns” is the longest thing here with its kicky Shoes energy and harmonized guitar solo, or that the gorgeous, nearly danceable “Guilty Party” that follows is just half the length. Cooler Returns achieves that coveted internal logic where its songs move as one, sweetening in the middle and alternating between richly arranged folk-pop with some Graceland in the bass and pimple-popping new wave at brisk but not blurry tempos. For all the layers and thoughtfulness in the foundation of Gaudet’s songs, they don’t take multiple listens to absorb. They’re packed and clever but uncomplicated and uncluttered.

This balancing act isn’t unheard of but it’s not guaranteed that even its target audience will notice how rare it is; Pitchfork signed off with a 7. You can only do so much with “really, really well-made pop-rock” as the sell. But it’s really, really well-made pop-rock. Even if it only attracts grad students.




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Ted Miller

Ted Miller is trying to collect the head of every Guns ‘n Roses’ guitarist for his rec room. He currently has three.

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