Cooler Returns — the compelling new album from the Toronto quartet Kiwi Jr. — packs a generally breezy journey through everyday travails.
Without ignoring the looming fog of emotional grit, Kiwi Jr. sound like they’re trying to chart a brighter path, and Cooler Returns is an often genuinely pleasant listen. The songs, which generally hinge on a sauntering indie rock vibe, feel remarkably smooth, and there’s no real abrasion in the music, although the dynamics are rich. Beyond their underlying indie rock, Kiwi Jr. venture into a folksy sound — a harmonica even makes a few appearances — and they also get a bit intense on songs like “Highlights of 100,” but their sound is never overwhelming. A quietly compelling and slightly punky weight courses through the music, emotionally grounding the experience.
The group applies some vibes from gentle folksy balladry to dynamic sets of musical ideas. Throughout Cooler Returns, there’s a sort of restrained soulfulness as the band applies their smooth approach to emotionally close-to-the-chest songs that provide very personal viewpoints. The sound feels quite accessible, as the group never ventures particularly far from the core musical themes driving the record.
By “Maid Marian’s Toast,” which is the album’s third track, the rhythmic swings in the music of Kiwi Jr. feel a bit bellicose, but they’re still breezy. There’s an airiness in the sound that courses through to the album’s title track, which appears around the midpoint of the record. The song is rhythmically a bit dramatic, but it isn’t unwieldy. “Norma Jean’s Jacket,” which appears towards the very end, hinges on airy mid-tempo indie rock that seems to capture a sense of peaceful resignation to the world’s persistently weird malaise.
Lyrically, the group’s singer Jeremy Gaudet performs with a sort of relaxed passion as he zig-zags across scenarios like standing in line at a bar, attending a wedding — and questioning whether the Woodstock music festival ever really happened at all. Sometimes, the music’s central perspective seems to capture a sense of disorientation, as if waking up in an unfamiliar city after a long trip the previous day and trying to figure out where affordable nearby restaurants are located. There’s a sometimes uneasy swing in the sound, but it’s not grim or particularly desperate. Instead, it’s like a musical reflection of a face-off with a half-eaten donut sitting starkly on a table.
Finding a bit of lighthearted brightness in moving through moments like those reflected on this record feels great, and the music is refreshing.
Listen to Cooler Returns in its entirety below! It’s available via Sub Pop.