Ask a dozen people to define the term “indie rock” and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers that include word combinations like “Archers of Loaf” and “Foster the People” and “indie rock is dead” and “sir, this is a Wendy’s.” As the term has evolved over the past few decades—from its origins denoting music released by an independent record label to a vague descriptor of a certain kind of sound—it’s no wonder the words have lost much of their meaning.
Make no mistake, however: Kiwi Jr. is an indie rock band. You can hear evidence of that all over their fine debut album Football Money, which is being released worldwide this week by Mint Records. (It came out only in Canada last year.)
For example, look to opening track “Murder in the Cathedral.” The song sighs and sparkles like Pavement at their “Gold Soundz” sunniest, with lead singer Jeremy Guadet delivering a spot-on Stephen Malkmus vocal performance, speak-singing in a way that lands somewhere between nonchalant and bratty. On “Leslie,” the band tweaks things ever so slightly and sounds like The Modern Lovers: The groove is darker and Gaudet sings with a bit more sneer in his voice. “Who was the man of the house?” he chirps, careening from note to note. “I fell asleep on the couch / Woke up bathed in sunlight.”
Elsewhere, the buzz and thrum of “Gimme More” is unmistakably Strokes-y, thanks to its insistent post-punk pace (courtesy of drummer Brohan Moore, who is namechecked in the song) and guitars that drone and tingle (played by Gaudet and Brian Murphy, better known as the bassist in Alvvays). And “Comeback Baby” provides a mildly psychedelic interlude of twinkling piano and rumpled vocal harmonies, while the roiling surf-punk of “Nothing Changes” recalls New Zealand legends The Clean, thus earning Kiwi Jr. its name. (The band is from Toronto, actually. Bassist Mike Walker rounds out the core lineup.)
Two other songs—“Salary Man” and “Swimming Pool”—are built atop beautifully jangling guitars, recalling the likes of R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub, respectively. The latter in particular is an album highlight, not least because it’s a sweet sunshine hit of melody-forward songwriting tucked in among tracks that prioritize urgency and swagger over a catchy tune.
Not that there’s anything wrong with either approach, of course. Indeed, the best rock bands of the past half-century have been able to deploy a sharp hook one moment and then strut into a primal groove the next. Someday, other band names will disappear from Kiwi Jr.’s reviews as the quartet further develops its sound. Football Money is evidence they’ve clearly got the ability and the point of view to do exactly that. Until then, they’re working from a world-class playbook.