Upon the first entry into the album, Canadian indie rock outfit Kiwi Jr. seem to create something that clutches on to the last few breaths of summer, just before the season shifts. A bouncy, feel-good buzz, “Unspeakable Things”, sets up the lively jangle pop that persists throughout Chopper’s runtime. However, the band’s intention for their latest release was to create something like a “Kiwi after dark” vibe–a collection of songs best suited for your 2:00 am commute home after a night out of drinking with friends.
Unmistakably on par with their previous releases, 2020’s Football Money and 2021’s Cooler Returns, Kiwi Jr. brighten their C-86-inspired sound with synthesizers, adding a new-wave tint that makes its cheeriness shine like vivacious carnival lights on a warm night. Even though the band may have aimed for something more lonely and reflective, Kiwi Jr. still give us one last ride on the teacup saucers before the cold weather takes all the fun away.
Kiwi Jr. have been seemingly focused in the past three years, putting out just as many albums in as many years. On their recent release, Chopper, they employ the help of Wolf Parade‘s Dan Boeckner, who sustained a pretty significant head injury during the making of the album. The accident, caused by a less than graceful fall when he slipped on a pair of silky track pants in his Airbnb, might have helped push the band to experiment. In previous releases, synths weren’t nearly as much of a feature of Kiwi Jr.’s sound as here. The aforementioned track, for example, vaunts a long, tangled phrase that synthesizes a merry-go-round tune with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s “Imagine”. The line feeds into lyrics that cherish clandestine thoughts that linger after a special date. If they were uttered, the moments would lose their magic: “What you’d say if we could see, every day, every key? If we got in by brute force, you never ever could go home again.”
The music video for “The Sound of Music” depicts the close-knit group of 30-year-olds–Jeremy Gaudet (guitar/vocals), Mike Walker (bass), Brohan Moore (drums), and Brian Murphy (guitar)–performing at a house show, playing pool at a local bar, and fooling around in front of a ’90s-era camcorder. Most of the songs on Chopper carry a similar wholesome storyline, but that’s not to say the record is always entirely chipper. “Night Vision” and “The Extra Sees the Film” feel more somber, yet the trebly guitars and driving rhythm, along with Gaudet’s catchy vocal melodies and wordy lyrics, somehow prevent it from ruining a good time. Elsewhere, the leech “Parasite” captures a chain of sacrifices: “If it’s good for me and it’s good from me, it’s good for the family.” “Clerical Sleep” is a dreamy bop with a bubbling synth whose chorus is yet another infectiously hummable tune.
Toronto’s Kiwi Jr. aren’t the only band to pull from the iconic C-86 tape released by the British music publication NME. Released in 1986, the compilation has become the standard vanguard for modern-day indie rock. Not only did it help to establish the DIY workaround major record labels, inspiring a generation of amateur bands and musicians to pursue a career in music, but it shaped the aesthetic and culture surrounding popular music in the years leading up to the ’90s. An album no longer needed deep pockets or slick production quality; like folk music, rock music became music for the common folk, by the common folk.
Kiwi Jr. are among one of the present-day purveyors mining the sound with sincerity and authenticity. Chopper, in a way, mirrors the trajectory of music history. Though their intention might have been to create something more introspective, by embracing the lathery sounds of synthesizers, Kiwi Jr. create something incidentally emblematic of the C-86 to new wave evolution. A warm and inviting listen, the album proves to be one satisfying listen and a memorable last hurray for the waning days of summer.