Politics, weird dreams, and the little things that bring joy, Kiwi Jr.’s ‘Cooler Returns’ is a fun, clever, and engaging album that is made for long road trips. 

Laughter is the best medicine, according to the old adage. After the turbulence of 2020 (which lingered into early 2021), laughter is most welcomed. Cue indie jangle-pop wunderkinds Kiwi Jr., who demonstrated on their debut album, Football Money, their skillful ability to mix humour with current social and political commentary. It was Pavement-like in its approach, where frontman Jeremy Gaudet channeled his inner Stephen Malkmus and added oddball observations while discussing a financial crisis. This is the appeal of the Toronto-based indie band – they find the amusing and bizarrely enlightening nuggets within the swell of negativity. They take this to further extremes on their fun, quirky, and clever sophomore album, Cooler Returns.

The 13-track, 36-minute record is a jangle-pop delight filled with tight hooks and creative tales friends would share (and make up) while on a long road trip. Opener “Tyler” perfectly captures what is to come. With its jittery, head-bobbing approach that could lead to the popularization of the piano and accordion as essential components of future indie-rock bands, Gaudet describes life as an independent artist trying to make ends meet. While his pal Tyler works for Microsoft and somehow makes his way into the green room and drinks “half the headliner’s rider,”  Gaudet finds himself “scrap(ing) the wallpaper off in the new guest bedroom.” But in true Kiwi Jr. fashion, there is no disdain in Gaudet’s voice. Instead, he gets up off the floor and declares, “Yeah, I know I can make it on my own / Sometimes you don’t have to leave it alone.”

This whimsical world littered with positivity and surreal events is further illuminated on the toe-tapping, harmonica-infused “Maid Marian’s Toast.” Part investigative journalism about the burning down of an eatery, the band depict that no matter who or what you are, you can always “get something you’ve always wanted.” This includes collecting “the insurance money” that follows the act of arson. On the exuberant “Highlights of 100”, Kiwi Jr. share all the little things that give people joy. From seeing Amy Adams taking the train to dreaming about “the big ass house in the country” to spoiling ballots, people’s desires have no boundaries. Others, as revealed on the groovy and catchy “Dodger,” “have the luxury of living in the past” and in an alternate reality.

Not everyone, however, has fond memories of the past. On the equally infectious and entertaining “Guilty Party”, Gaudet recalls “cry(ing) at Dufferin Mall” where he was ostracized as a teenager. However, he was befriended by someone whose name he has forgotten. As the story continues, the track sounds like an homage to the Jemaine Clement-created TV series, What We Do in the Shadows. Gaudet is Guillermo, the human who wants to forever be friends with the “world-famous vampire” who he “cannot see in the rear-view mirror giving me two thumbs way way up,” only to be denied the opportunity to live an immortal life.

Kiwi Jr.’s warped imagination rises to a different level with “Cooler Returns.” Then again, the track is situated in the dumpster fire that was 2020. A massively upbeat sonic experiment of hip-shaking, head-spinning, neck-jerking, quirky guitar pop-rock, the gents discuss how the past year truly screwed up people’s equilibrium and sense of self. Gaudet sings, “I’m not an American, but I feel the beat sometimes,” referencing how one doesn’t need to live stateside to feel the havoc caused by a few.

The American theme continues on “Undecided Voters,” the band’s most timely single. With its jangly approach reminiscent of R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People”, Kiwi Jr. tackle how a small group of people determine election outcomes. But many of these people, though, are unconcerned about politics. They’re more interested in watching their bank accounts grow. The present day is indeed surreal and further accentuated on the bubbly “Omaha.” In the heart of America, 20,000 delegates gather “to wait for the old man.” Here they share their alternate realities, preferring to hear about cover-ups than the truth and questioning if actual events really happened.

It’s not just politics where people endlessly hope outcomes will suddenly change. The boisterous, ’60s-ish bubblegum pop “Domino” and the energetic “Nashville Wedding” address desires for reciprocated love. But for that to happen, he must stop living “inside a glass jar” and learn to control his temper and not desire to “strangle the jangle-pop band.”

Such feelings manifest themselves on the superb closer, “Waiting In Line.” While the melody is bright and warming, Gaudet again delivers an observant tale on being suspended in place. He tells a story of people like him who are constantly waiting for something to happen and be subservient to fate, the whims of another (like a lover), and time. Kiwi Jr., on the contrary, are the opposite. They are constantly moving and proving they are masters of their fate with one amusing observation and laugh at a time.

Kiwi Jr. are Jeremy Gaudet (vocals, guitar, keys), Brian Murphy (guitar, backing vocals), Mike Walker (bass, keys, backing vocals), and Brohan Moore (drums, backing vocals).  Cooler Returns is out now via Sub Pop (global) and their own Kiwi Club imprint.  Bandcamp and the label’s store are the places to go to order the record.

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