Jigsaw Feeling: Kiwi Jr – ‘Cooler Returns’

❉ An interesting mix of the old, not so old and not nearly quite as old all melded into something new enough to get excited about. 

‘It’s depressing when you’re still around and your albums are out of print’, said Lou Reed sometime before the opposite happened. ‘I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine’. 

It’s unclear whether or not Kiwi Jr raised Lou’s spirit from a ceremonial fire during Canada’s Covid response, but it matters not. Nostalgia’s a powerful tool, when utilised correctly. ‘it’s delicate, but potent…it literally means ‘the pain from an old wound…a time machine’ rapped TV’s sociopathic ad-man, Don Draper. There’s a power and comfort in re-experiencing the things that once gave you pleasure or pain, and Kiwi Jr’s sophomore album Cooler Returns happily ticks boxes with impunity as it makes its way down its easy going fits-like-a-glove running order.

Self-releasing their first album, 2020’s Football Money, Kiwi Jr were hailed as the successors to indie praise-magnet superstars The Strokes, (as is every post-strokes guitar band, yawn). However, their first offering more resembled Californian lo-fi favourites Pavement, pulling glowing reviews from Mojo (5 stars), Shindig! (4 stars), Uncut and the Wire amongst others for their irrepressible non-sequiturs and wry observations about the modern world put to tight rhythm sections and hooky guitar phrases. The essential ingredients for a band – any band. 

It’s here with Cooler Returns though, where they put together their own jigsaw, made of pieces of recognisable slices of neatly fitting nostalgia for the way music used to be. Sure, there are Strokes-esque bass lines, changes and time signatures to be found – but the New York scenesters don’t own the intellectual property rights to rock and roll. Instead, look beyond and you’ll find more interesting things happening here than hero worship. For example, Lou Reed hated the Beatles, but here’s his voice singing pretty ‘90s Britpop melodies that he’d have surely despised – were they not coming out of front man Jeremy with an effortless ease that Reed never possessed. 

Supporting the vocals is an interesting mix of the old, not so old and not nearly quite as old all melded into something new enough to get excited about. Highlights of 100 opens with Peggy Sue’s floor toms and is coupled with a Mystery Jets’ infused melodicism that brings a fun and freshness to familiar modes. Opener, Tyler, hails memories of hooky Irish rockers, Ash and does the melodic craft and lyricism of Tim Wheeler no disservice: ‘I know I can make it on my own – I was falling apart in the green room whilst you drank the band’s rider’

Where Undecided Voters kicks off with Dylan’s harmonica, Maid Marion’s Toast is pure early REM, namely Peter Buck. These are neither ironic nor earnest takes, but what they are: perfectly placed colours to remind you that you’re in the hands of tunesmiths. Put Green back in the CD box, here’s something new you might like. 

Title track Cooler Returns springs us forward to a more distant past with the Hives: all jerky, Fender guitar tones and eight to the bar drum parts energising the middle eights. Melody lilts over the top of driving amp driven bass parts, suggesting that the recent claims that ‘guitar music is dead, Mr Epstein’, are pleasingly premature. Hallelujah. 

Guilty Party is all Honky Tonk Women intro, leading into an unabashed Stones-esque strucure that never falls into homage, but stays safely in the realms of post-modern reference. Dig out the original kids. Did Lou Reed hate the Stones, too? Who cares. Jeremy doesn’t and neither do I.

Emotional centrepiece, Omaha, references the near death experience of American democracy alongside the apparent demise of the counter-culture movement that advanced the spirit of youthful liberalism in the free world: ‘Don’t blow your plain clothes cover….there’s no proof that Woodstock ever happened in the first place’. Which is a nice little pop at the hidden Trump voters who’d gotten what they needed and now wanted to pull up the ladder.

The most striking historic nod is, unsurprisingly, to the Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting For The Man with penultimate track, Norma Jean’s Jacket. The lilt of Jeremy’s voice reaches a higher tonal plane than Reed’s without ever reaching the emotional heights, but nevertheless colour the proceedings with inescapable glee whilst ending in different destinations entirely. 

Depressingly, we’re at an age now where the new generation of guitar bands are taking their inspiration from the ‘heritage’ acts that came to prominence in the late 1990’s or ‘00s. They’re now influenced by the bands in the past that were influenced by the bands from the past. Grandad must have really had it going on. This puts a barrier between deference and revival however. No pains have been made to recreate a 1960’s recording technique, when vital vibes and attitude is all that remain. Nostalgia – it ain’t what it used to be, thank goodness. 

‘Jack the Ripper, killed like six people, max, and plays Day Tripper…the luxury of living in the past’ says album tail-ender, Dodger. Hard to argue that the past is a nice place to be if 2020 was all we had to go on, but the view into the future is something to cling on to if there’s even a slim chance it might at least be a fun ride. Hey, I don’t mind nostalgia, as long as it’s mine. 

Kiwi Jr’s Cooler Returns does what it promises – the returns on their follow up are far from diminishing, but tantalisingly on the verge of something very interesting indeed. 

❉ Kiwi Jr: ‘Cooler Returns’ released worldwide by Sub Pop Records.

❉ A regular contributor to Far Out Magazine, We Are Cult, The View magazine, Velvet magazine, the Teatles Book and more, Jamie Osborne writes a variety of fiction, non-fiction, comedy and features. Jamie loves to write about music, the Beatles, ’50s & ’60s culture and art, TV, film, comedy and football. You can find some examples on his blog page.

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