Intricate, crafty songwriting that packs a punch...

Kiwi Jr.’s self-released debut album ‘Football Money’ arrived just last year. In our 8/10 review, we described it as “one of those rare albums that gets better the more you play it.” Now, in keeping with the financially titled narrative of their debut, the band have coolly returned to disseminate this year's annual report to the shareholders, burying the incriminating numbers in the endless appendices of their sophomore longform record ‘Cooler Returns.’

Having recently signed to Sub Pop (Fleet Foxes, Marika Hackman, Constantines, Nirvana), the Canadian four-piece recorded their latest work through the first stretch of quarantine last year in what they describe in a press release as a “sanitised singer shuffling to sanitised studio by streetcar flow state.” This sanitisation, thankfully, doesn’t permeate through their new album; it’s crammed full of wry, observational wit and pop smarts in taut fashion, nodding its head to musical influences both past and present as it embarks on its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it survey of the first few bites of the twenties.

Lead singer Jeremy Gaudet channels the unmistakable aura of Modern Lovers’ Jonathan Richman in his vocal delivery. ‘Tyler’, the album’s opener, exudes this from the offset while jangly guitars and honky-tonk piano lines introduce a distinct saloon style feel which flows throughout much of the album. ‘Undecided Voters’ tackles the band’s frustrations at political apathy while the curiously titled ‘Maid Marian’s Toast’ pays homage to The Kinks’ Ray Davies through its humorous exposé of a true story on local arson and insurance fraud – “bye, bye, Marian, we know how you butter your bread.”

More modern musical influences also feed their way throughout the album. Title track ‘Cooler Returns’, with its staccato guitars and delicately distorted vocals, blends the recognizable sound of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and The Strokes to a neat concoction. ‘Domino’ carries this feel with its brooding, gritty lead guitar riff before ‘Norma Jean’s Jacket’ covers heartache and sorrow in a witty guise, leaving the pain behind in a “bad tattoo of the past.”

Many artists who’ve brought out new music during the pandemic have opted to look inward as a source of inspiration for lyrical themes. Kiwi Jr., however, have done the opposite. ‘Cooler Returns’ displays a keen eye for observation – both grand and quaint – as its myriad of tracks cohere together through a bond of musical influences old and new to form an album that’s invitingly optimistic, while also displaying intricacy and craftiness in abundance.

8/10

Words: Jamie Wilde

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