Canadian indie/alternative band Kiwi jr. released their sophomore record, Cooler Returns, in early 2021, just a year after their first album, Football Money. Throughout Cooler Returns the band comments on the happenings of the new decade through bright, catchy tracks with deeply thoughtful lyrics.

Starting out with short and sweet “Tyler,” Kiwi jr. sets a precedent for upbeat tempos and clear vocals that characterizes the album. There are many other highlights in Cooler Returns, including the fun danceability of track two, “Undecided Voters,” as well as the transition from the almost melancholy intro of “Only Here for a Haircut” to a memorable guitar piece. The album’s namesake, “Cooler Returns,” includes a particularly notable opening guitar riff. One of my favorite parts of Cooler Returns is Kiwi jr.’s inclusion of the harmonica. The instrument adds a fantastic extra layer of sound within the album, acting as one of the threads that makes the entire album so unified (along with the skillful playing of drums and bass).

My favorite songs on the album, however, are “Nashville Wedding” and the closing “Waiting in Line.” Both songs have a great mix of thoughtfulness and emotion, seeming like they could roll for the credits of a coming of age movie. “Nashville Wedding” specifically blends catchy guitar and backing vocals to create what I think is the peak of the album. If you only listen to one song off Cooler Returns, try this one.

Besides the admirable idiosyncrasies of the individual songs, multiple aspects of Cooler Returns make it a great experience to listen to it all the way through. Balance seems to be the name of the game here. The record has a remarkable equilibrium between vocals and instruments—vocalist Jeremy Gaudet’s singing is clear while also allowing the amazing instrumentation to shine. Despite the noticeability of both parts, they still work as a cohesive unit. Cooler Returns has something of a uniform sound altogether, but still avoids being repetitive. Each song has its own character, while still fitting into the blueprint of the larger album. This also affects the record as a narrative, letting it skillfully tell the story of tumultuous 2020 with all its twists and turns.

All in all, Cooler Returns is a fantastic sophomore album from a band worth watching in the future. I definitely enjoyed listening to the album and would recommend it to anyone interested in indie or alternative music—or anyone wanting to reflect on the eventful year that was 2020.

Meg Brown