Published Jan 18, 2021At a glance, Kiwi Jr.'s music scans as a retro revival of '60s pop sweetness and '90s slacker rock swagger — especially since frontman Jeremy Gaudet's drawling sing-speak sounds unmistakably like Stephen Malkmus. But pull their songs apart and you'll discover a surrealist sense of adventure. Golden hooks appear once and are never repeated, arrangements avoid predictable verse-chorus structures, and lyric sheets are packed with hyper-specific references and quirky non sequiturs.
Cooler Returns, the Toronto band's second album and first for indie institution Sub Pop, continues the momentum of 2019's Football Money with another fast-and-furious collection of rock songs that take familiar sounds — jangling indie pop, spiky post-punk riffs, wheezing harmonica — and twist them into subtly wonky shapes.
These 13 songs take a few listens to sift through and fully appreciate — like the way the chorus of "Only Here for a Haircut" alternates between bluesy minor intervals and sunny major-key lifts, or the way "Maid Marian's Toast" opens with a comical olde-tyme parable: "Ye own the beehive, thus ye own all of the honey."
Yes, there are instantly gratifying hooks: in particular, "Undecided Voters," "Domino" and "Waiting in Line" are stomping power pop anthems with shout-along choruses and ample repetitions of the title phrases. Album opener "Tyler" begins the record with a verse about clinging onto a low-rent apartment — something that will immediately resonate with anyone who has ever lived in a big, expensive city.
The real fun of Cooler Returns, though, lies in the clever details that you might never understand, no matter how many times you listen. "Omaha" careens between giddy chorus melodies and complex time signatures that make the song feel like its tripping over itself, while the lyrics are a free association grab bag of bizarre phrases. "Tigers in the coliseum / Lions at the Comfort Inn / Ra-ra Omaha / Home of the husbands" goes one passage in the first verse. What does it mean? Who the hell knows, but it sounds amazing. (Kiwi Club / Sub Pop)