ALBUM OF THE DAY
Kiwi Jr., “Chopper”
By Hayden Merrick August 02, 2022
before choppers came along and complicated things, it was safe to call Kiwi Jr.’s sound emblematic of an approach to unpretentious guitar music that’s in tune with the old. A central force in the jangle-pop renaissance, the Toronto quartet helped curate a transcontinental safe space for Flying Nun’s admirers – the Slumberland crew in Oakland; Jeanines and UV TV in New York; Young Guv et al. in Toronto. Unfortunately, the anachronism these acts exude isn’t the kind that’s in vogue (see Beabadoobees or even Olivia Rodrigo’s embrace of all that’s in the middle). The indie media world didn’t exactly welcome Jangler with open arms either. As frontman Jeremy Gaudet laments about the ominously titled Kennedy Curse: “Deadlifting a Fender guitar and get nowhere/ Showing your ass, trying to dance, to a cycle of failure.” With their vibrant third LP, Kiwi Jr. swing from the strum tree and tell the story of an underdog against an indifferent world.
choppersThe downgrading of guitars and the introduction of synths may shake those close to the band’s earlier work. Where is 2021 cooler returns opened with Rickenbacker arpeggios and Gaudet’s café chanting, “Unspeakable Things” drops us into a crescendo of pounding drums and sticky synth counterpoint. When we meet Gaudet at the summit, he’s actually singing. Shy vocals fading into a fake British accent, porous whispers, yapping reed-isms –choppers expands his vocal range and adds nice reinforcements from Dorothea Paas. However, the tonal realignment suits Kiwi Jr. and a few others cooler returns-style barn stormers (see “Downtown Area Blues”) will likely placate the purists.
Throughout the album, recurring lyrical themes act like a string threading together a collection of disconnected cards. The Sound of Music examines fame and failure through a case study by Julie Andrews. “The Extra Sees the Movie,” breezy and tender enough to be one 16 lovers alley Cut, approaches the same balancing act from a young actor’s point of view. There are roads and cars, the color blue, God. Because this is Gaudet – which blends the poetic innuendo of Stephen Malkmus with the layered pop culture references of “30 Rock” – the lyrics span banter and genuine commentary on the difficulties of being a DIY indie band in 2022. “It’s your turn to be ripped off, so get inspired”) is an apt thesis. “I could have danced all night/ And done a thousand things/ But without begging,” Gaudet intones in “The Masked Singer,” before the instrumental coda fades into the night.
Despite a generally pessimistic view of her own career prospects, Kiwi Jr. is taking steps to break the jangle box and her local scene. Perhaps the best song on the album is “Clerical Sleep,” an addictive soft-rock gem in the mold of Canadian indie luminaries The Weakerthans – masters of the dichotomy between depression and contentment, and whose frontman is credited in the liner notes – “It felt so good to be home / But leaving feels even better.” Kiwi Jr. Mark Two deserves trust – and judging by this album, they feel the same way.