Kiwi Jr.'s newest album is entering its peak season: jangly pop summer
The Toronto band builds on its critically successful debut with an album that is both fun-loving and pithy
Watch Kiwi Jr. perform two songs and chat with Saroja Coelho on The Intro, above, and hit play on The Intro stream, filled with songs from artists featured on CBC Music's emerging artist series.
"Take it to the beach, put it on that Bluetooth speaker. Crack a cold one."
Kiwi Jr.'s Jeremy Gaudet knows exactly when people should put on his band's newest album, Cooler Returns, which came out in January but is just entering its prime time.
The Toronto band, with members who have all moved to the city from P.E.I. over the last decade, released its debut album of jangly pop laced with pithy lyrics via Mint Records in 2019. Titled Football Money, it became a critical success, garnering a high rating on Pitchfork that caught the attention of Seattle label Sub Pop (former home of Nirvana and Soundgarden; current home to Beach House, Orville Peck and Wolf Parade). Just two years later, Kiwi Jr. is back with its followup, released via Sub Pop worldwide plus their own imprint, Kiwi Club, in Canada.
There's a significant difference between this album and the first, though: the constraints of the pandemic.
"The first record was recorded and released while we were playing live, so most of those songs were road tested, and the approach was to try to recreate a live sound on the record," explains Gaudet. "Whereas this album, I think only two or three of the songs we had the chance to play live before the pandemic so it was more like we were creating songs in a box, not really worried about how we were going to play them live on this one."
He adds that the recording process this time around allowed the band members — which include Gaudet (lead vocals), Brian Murphy (guitar), Mike Walker (bass) and Brohan Moore (drums) — to have more freedom in terms of their instrumentation. "There's more piano and organ, keyboards and things like that on the record, and we don't have a key player normally." He adds that for more recent live videos, Murphy has learned the keyboard parts. "We're just kind of figuring it out now," Gaudet says.
A bit of the band's listening habits pre-recording bled into the process, too, as the harmonica and guitars on "Only Here for a Haircut" have a country-folk streak to them. "Me and Jeremy were definitely listening to a lot of '70s folk before the recording, people like Jackson Browne, Sandy Denny and stuff like that. So that's probably where you hear some of that," says Murphy.
On song "Waiting in Line," one vibrant instrument required a specific setting. "I think the icing on the cake was definitely [when] we tracked upright piano at this old Queen Street bar [Cameron House] where we kind of just field recorded the piano player in," says Murphy. "And it was just the engineer, the piano player and us. So that was kind of cool. And I think that, like Jeremy said, really brought the song to life in terms of production."
Gaudet, lead songwriter for the band, refers to "a huge Five Star binder" that serves as a working outline for the band members once they get into the studio.
"[It's] full of all the ideas that we wanted to try once we got into the studio," he explains, "things that were as vague as like, 'piano during second verse?' We don't have a part for that or anything, but once you get in there and you have a spare minute, you just tinker around with it to see if it works."
Gaudet's witty lyricism pops throughout the album, particularly on the aforementioned "Waiting in Line." "I stay home, you go to work/ I'll sleep in, your Jesus shirt," he sings, the words on the second half of each line punching to the beat of each instrument. "Waiting in line/ queuing up for the very last time," he rhymes, the short quips rolling so easily off the tongue.
The end result is an album that is ironically brimming with live potential, though we'll have to settle for that Bluetooth speaker and beach setting for a few more months.