Toronto’s Kiwi Jr.Cooler Returns, the follow up to their acclaimed debut Football Money, is available now on CD/LP/CD/DSPs worldwide through Sub Pop, with the exception of Canada through the band’s Kiwi Club imprint.
[Photo credit: Warren Calbeck]
Buildings burning in every direction; macabre unknowns in your friendly neighbor’s basement; undecided voters sharpening their pencils: under pressure we could call Kiwi Jr.’s Cooler Returns“timely.” But what year is it, again? On their sophomoric smash-up released world-wide by Sub Pop Records, Kiwi Jr. cycle through the recent zigs & looming zags of the new decade, squinting anew at New Year’s parties forgotten and under-investigated small town diner fires, piecing together low-stakes conspiracy theories on what’s coming down the pike in 2021. Put together like a thousand-piece puzzle, assembled in flow state through the first dull stretch of quarantine, sanitized singer shuffling to sanitized studio by streetcar, masked like it’s the kind of work where getting recognized means getting killed, Cooler Returnsmaterializes as a sprawling survey from the first few bites of the terrible twenties, an investigative exposé of recent history buried under the headlines & ancient kings buried under parking lots.
Not so long since their debut Football Money in archaeological time, unending gray eons later in the dog years of quaran-time, spiritually antipodean Canadians Kiwi Jr. return to disseminate this year’s annual report to the shareholders, burying the incriminating numbers in the endless appendices of a longform narrative record, a 3,000 word tract for stakeholders to pore over.
Cooler Returns - memories of Augusts past, unrepressed & transcribed fast - go down easier thanks to meaningful changes enacted in 2019’s KiwiCares Pledge: delivering on a promise to transition from Crunchy to Smooth by 2021, the caveman chug of Football Money has been steamed & pressed with the purifying air of a saloon piano - operated with bow-tie untied - and a spring green side-salad of tentatively up-tempo organ taps & freshly fluted harmonica.
A chronically detuned spin of the dial through swivel-chair distractions & WFH daydreams, an immersive ctrl-tab deluge cycling through popular listicle distractions like the unentombing of Richard III, or the deja vu destruction of the Glasgow School of Art, Kiwi Jr. sing this song to an indoor audience, crisscrossing canceled, every other prestige distraction source wrung dry, only songwriting remaining to deliver engrossing tales to the populace, just how I imagine it worked in the old days. Fixing loose ingredients into a sturdy whip, Kiwi Jr. beam in live from the 9-5, striding into 2021 with a mastered brainwave that comes equally from the back room of the record store as the penalty box. And how do we, left holding this box of deliberate entanglements, sign off to those as yet uninitiated, undecided, uncertain, unseen, absent return coordinates - Best Wishes, Warm Regards, Good Luck? Cooler Returns, Cooler Returns, C o o l e r R e t u r n s !
Kiwi Jr. Cooler Returns has seen praise from the likes of MOJO, who in its four-star review, raves, “sustaining momentum near-flawlessly across 13 songs…proves Kiwi Jr. have the skills to match their smarts.” Uncut says, “Canadian absurdists’ return is a lyrical delight”, DIY offers this, “The band rattle through a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hooks and melodies (4/5).”, and NARC proclaims, “Cooler Returns is a bloody good album full of vivid charm (4/5).”
More on Kiwi Jr.: “A scratchy post-punk jam with some seriously funny lyrics.” [“Cooler Returns”] - Stereogum
“The latest glimpse into their 2021 debut album, “Undecided Voters” is an upbeat indie rock song filled with layers of social commentary woven under the seemingly random surface of the lyrics.” - PASTE
“Very catchy and very timely” [“Undecided Voters”] - Brooklyn Vegan
Tracklisting 1. Tyler 2. Undecided Voters 3. Maid Marian’s Toast 4. Highlights of 100 5. Only Here for a Haircut 6. Cooler Returns 7. Guilty Party 8. Omaha 9. Domino 10. Nashville Wedding 11. Dodger 12. Norma Jean’s Jacket 13. Waiting in Line
There is an additional limited edition version of Cooler Returns from participating Dinked retailers in the UK that will be available on yellow colored vinyl with a signed print and a sequentially numbered obi strip (while supplies last).
“A jaunty rocker that immediately aligns them with Australian favourites (and now label-mates) Rolling Blackouts CF, “Undecided Voters” takes precisely 0.5 listens to get under your skin, being as it is so packed with vibrant guitars, propulsive percussion and ever-appearing earworm melodies…” - Beats Per Minute
“If their debut Football Money, which so gratifyingly warmed the sceptics within us with their comfortably layered hooks and dry sardonic perception of the metropolitan dream, was their run for local town mayor – ‘Undecided Voters’ is their big money shot at the senatorship.” - So Young
“As we prepare for perhaps the most theatrical and gladiatorial political debate in history, ‘Undecided Voters’ is simultaneously extremely funny and painfully prescient.” - The Line of Best Fit
“The track channels a breezy 90s sort of indie rock anthem of sorts, that feels part slacker anthem and something much grander and anthemic at the very same time.” [“Cooler Returns”] - We All Want Someone To Shout For
“The four-piece’s refined pop sensibilities haven’t entirely escaped them in light of those cracks coming completely unglued early on in the track. If anything, they sound like a vehicle headed downhill without any brakes, momentum balling up, and a shit-eating grin worn on each of their faces approaching collision.” [“Cooler Returns”] - Recommended Listen
“On paper, the lyrics of Kiwi Jr.’s ‘Cooler Returns’ reads like a mildly anxious stream-of-consciousness that careens from an uncomfortable Super Bowl Sunday to being “strung out on the back of your ATV / throwing dead birds into the air”. But the song’s also a jangly, indie rock earworm that’ll lodge itself in that part of your brain that loves Pavement.” [“Cooler Returns”] - NME
“Having heard the new album, Cooler Returns…we can attest that they have lost exactly none of the naïvety of style that had them create such infectious tunes the first time around.” - Louder Than War
Today, Japanese quartet CHAI are thrilled to announce their new album, WINK, out May 21st on Sub Pop. Ahead of its release, they present lead single/video “ACTION.” Their third full-length and first for Sub Pop, WINK contains CHAI’s mellowest and most minimal music, and also their most affecting and exciting songwriting by far. WINK is a fitting title then: a subtle but bold gesture. A wink is an unselfconscious act of conviction, or as CHAI puts it: “A person who winks is a person with a pure heart, who lives with flexibility, who does what they want. A person who winks is a person who is free.” YUUKI noted that “With this album, we’re winking at you. We’re living freely and we hope that when you listen, you can wink and live freely, too.”
WINK is now available to preorder from Sub Pop. LPs purchased through megamart.subpop.com, and select independent retailers in North America will receive the limited Loser edition on colored vinyl (while supplies last).
CHAI is made up of identical twins MANA (lead vocals and keys) and KANA (guitar), drummer YUNA, and bassist-lyricist YUUKI. Following the release of 2019’s PUNK, CHAI’s adventures took them around the world, playing their high-energy and buoyant shows at music festivals like Primavera Sound and Pitchfork Music Festival, and touring with indie-rock mainstays like Whitney and Mac DeMarco. Like all musicians, CHAI spent 2020 forced to rethink the fabric of their work and lives. But CHAI took this as an opportunity to shake up their process and bring their music somewhere thrillingly new. Having previously used their maximalist recordings to capture the exuberance of their live shows, with the audiences’ reactions in mind, CHAI instead focused on crafting the slightly-subtler and more introspective kinds of songs they enjoy listening to at home—where, for the first time, they recorded all of the music. Amidst the global shutdown, CHAI worked on Garageband and traded their song ideas—which they had more time than ever to consider—over Zoom and phone calls, turning their limitations into a strength.
While the band leaned into a more personal sound, WINK is also the first CHAI album to feature contributions from outside producers (Mndsgn, YMCK) as well as a feature from Chicago rapper-singer Ric Wilson. CHAI draw R&B and hip-hop into their mix (Mac Miller, the Internet, and Brockhampton were on their minds) of dance-punk and pop-rock, all while remaining undeniably CHAI. Whether in relation to this newfound sense of openness or their at-home ways of composing, the theme of WINK is to challenge yourself.
Lead single “ACTION” was a response to watching the Black Lives Matter protests unfold across America and the world in June of 2020 while the band was in Japan.
“Seeing how the world came together during the protests really moved me,” said YUUKI. “I wanted to dedicate that song to the year of action.” The band further elaborates: “The world as we know it has changed, but even with that, it’s still a world where nothing really changes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there more ACTION rooted in happiness? Be the change that you want to see!…I’m going to be the pioneer in seeing the world I want to see, meeting the people I want to meet! We start off by expressing the fun in ACTION with this music video♡ Why don’t you join us?! It’s that type of song♡.”
CHAI came to see WINK—with its home-y feel—as a collection where each song is like a new friend, something comforting to rely on and reach out to, as the album was for them throughout 2020. This impulse towards connection is in WINK’s title, too. After the “i” of PINK and the “u” of PUNK—which represented the band’s act of introducing themselves, and then of centering their audiences—they have come full circle with the “we” of WINK. It signals CHAI’s relationship with the outside world, an embrace of profound togetherness. Through music, as CHAI said, “we are all coming together.” In that act of opening themselves up, CHAI grew into their best work: “This album showed us, we’re ready to do more.”
Gerald Clayton’s “Theme From MLK/FBI” is from the award-winning film MLK/FBI and is now available on all DSPs and on a 7” single along with Preservation Hall’s Jazz Band’s “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” worldwide from Sub Pop.
Clayton’s “Theme…” is a gorgeous, affecting, and chilling arrangement that acts as the perfect accompaniment to the film’s tragic and searing storytelling. A two-time Grammy nominee for 2021, Clayton is “a pianist of great touch and soulful exposition,” according to the New York Times. He is also the Musical Director of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, and has released five acclaimed albums including Two-Shade, Life Forum, Tributary Tales and, most recently, his debut on Blue Note Records, Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the group’s uplifting version of the black national anthem, was recorded specifically for MLK/FBI. The song was released in December with an official video that features footage from the film, and was co-directed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Ben Jaffe and Kenneth Alexander Campbell.
“Theme From MLK/FBI” is the B-side on the aforementioned 7” on single with Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s “Lift Every Voice & Sing” on the A-side, and is available to order now through Sub Pop.
MLK/FBI recently won the Critics’ Choice award for “Best Archival Documentary” and IDA awards for “Best Feature” and “Best Director” for director Sam Pollard. The film is earning raves from the likes of The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, New York Times and has been covered in interviews with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, The New Yorker Radio Hour’s Jelani Cobb along with today’s segments from Good Morning America and NPR’s Fresh Air.
MLK/FBI is the first film to uncover the extent of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Based on newly discovered and declassified files, utilizing a trove of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unsealed by the National Archives, as well as revelatory restored footage, the documentary explores the government’s history of targeting Black activists, and the contested meaning behind some of our most cherished ideals. The film is produced by Benjamin Hedin, and written by Hedin and Laura Tomaselli.
MLK/FBI is now in theatres and available from video-on-demand services and is distributed by IFC Films.
What the critics are saying about MLK/FBI: “One of the most urgent films of the year…” - Vanity Fair
“Powerhouse doc. Rewarding. Meticulously damning.” - Los Angeles Times
“Sam Pollard has assembled an engrossing, unsettling documentary…Rigorously focused on the facts of the past, the movie is also as timely as an alarm clock.” [“10 Great Movies at the New York Film Festival”] - New York Times
“Artfully assembled. It may be the best of this year’s very impressive slate. Illuminates the darkest, most insidious corners of American power and racism—past and present.” - Entertainment Weekly
“The film is a sobering watch and a timely reminder that King’s struggle for racial justice wasn’t straightforward, nor is it close to complete.” [“4 Films You Need to Watch This Fall”] - The Atlantic
Cartel Madras both direct and star in the new video for “DRIFT,” their lifted, collaborative single with Toronto hip hop producer Dom Dias, available now on DSPs in Canada from Royal Mountain Records and the rest of the world through Sub Pop.
Cartel Madras’s Eboshi and Contra had this to say about “DRIFT,” “We teamed up with Toronto’s Dom Dias to make a sequel of sorts to ‘Goonda Gold’ - something that sounds hype, fun, and sets the tone for the new year and our upcoming new project. ‘DRIFT’ is about BIPOC women enjoying themselves and the fruits of their labor. In our music video, we wanted to show a beautiful group of creatives and artists from various backgrounds dabbling in marijuana. We also wanted to show a group of women owning the means of production. Lyrically, this song exists in the Cartel Madras Universe and follows us doing what we do best; self-referentially discussing high powered, risky, good times. ‘DRIFT’ opens 2021 for Cartel with new energy, big vibes, and ganja fuelled heat.”
“DRIFT” is Cartel Madras’s first new music of 2021, and is from their forthcoming project TheSerpent and The Tiger, the third installment of the Project Goonda trilogy (which includes 2018’s Trapistan and 2019’s Age of the Goonda) due out later this year on Royal Mountain Records/Sub Pop.
What people are saying about Cartel Madras: “They’ve got an absolutely wicked flow — think M.I.A. meets Cardi B. Hints of traditional Tamil music are sprinkled throughout.” [“Goonda Gold”] - Stereogum
“Cartel Madras are smashing barrier musically and are sure to blow your mind with their uniqueness.” [Age of the Goonda] - CLASH
“Full of raw, powerful, nonchalant energy” [“Goonda Gold”] - Gal-Dem
“Age of the Goonda is an invigorating five-track blast…More, please.” - The Wire
“Comprised of six tracks, the EP possesses layered bass lines pumped with adrenaline, a range of Indian classical instruments weaved in and hooks that stay in your brain for days.” [Age of the Goonda] - NME
“Age of the Goonda provides an electrifying burst of the duo’s live show energy in concentrated form.” - Loud & Quiet
“In pop analogy, this hip-hop duo comprising Calgary-bred, Chennai-born siblings Bhagya and Priya Ramesh is somewhat like a Tamil Pulp Fiction-meets-MIA. With a carousel of bad-ass, no-fucks-given, brown girl anthems, Cartel Madras is brought to life by two sisters who don’t shy of braggadocio (you can’t miss their stack of gold jewelry) as they spout songs about feminism, empowerment and inclusivity.” [“12 New Musicians Set to Breakthrough in 2020”] - Vogue India
Lael Neale directs and stars in the official video for “Blue Vein,” the lead single from her forthcoming album Acquainted With Night, out February 19th, 2021 on LP*/CD/DL/CS worldwide through Sub Pop.
“Blue Vein” is her personal anthem. A Paul Revere piece. Galloping through the town as a strident declamation. Neale offers this, “I wrote it around New Year’s Eve and it felt like a resolution.” Indeed, it is an amalgam of thoughts, concerns, and lessons as she nearly speaks the words, unmasked by flourishes, ensuring the meaning cuts through. In the final verse she states that, “some say the truth springs for reservoir seekers, but I think the truth sings to whoever listens” thereby establishing herself as the proverbial carrier pigeon delivering a message.
Acquainted With Night features ten tracks, and includes the previously released standouts “Every Star Shivers in the Dark” and “For No One For Now.” The album was composed and arranged by Neale, produced and mixed by Guy Blakeslee, and mastered by Chris Coady.
Uncut calls the album, “A thing of shimmering beauty, led by Neale’s otherworldly voice with its shades of Vashti Bunyan and Julia Holter.”
What people are saying about Lael Neale: “…Like Mazzy Star with an Omnichord.” [“Every Star…”] - Uncut
“The grandeur of the organ tones, joined by a tinny drum machine, give it a similar feel to Beach House’s more recent albums.” [“Every Star Shivers in the Dark”] - Brooklyn Vegan
“Against a beat and organ based tones, Neale belts the vocals out like she’s singing to anyone who will listen. Her voice echoes like a ringing bell or alarm, the simplicity of the song’s structure works with her voice as the catalyst.” [“Every Star Shivers in the Dark”] - Closed Captioned
“…Lael taps into something universal, city or country, that we all long for, connection…and if you find the time to listen to Lael’s music, you’ll find plenty to love as well.”[ “Every Star Shivers in the Dark”/“Five Things We Liked This Week”] - For the Rabbits
“An absorbing two-chord hymnal” [“Every Star Shivers in the Dark”] - Joyzine
“‘Every Star Shivers in the Dark’ is far more reflective in its delivery, there is an undeniably optimistic undertone and a dreaminess liberally sprinkled throughout. It brings a crescendo of twinkling key changes at the end of the track which linger long in the mind like the last rays of sunshine on the perfect Summer day.” - Still Listening
“Neale impressed us with ‘Every Star Shivers In The Dark,’…she’s back with another new track, the entrancing “For No One For Now.’ Like Neale’s prior single, this one is minimal and reflective while maintaining a strong backbeat. But rather than build to a cathartic breakthrough, ‘For No One For Now’ lingers in the unresolved tension, less a song than an atmosphere to exist inside.” - Stereogum
“‘For No One For Now’ was inspired by Joan Didion’s imagery of the San Fernando Valley, but recrafted beautifully through Neale’s poetic songwriting and Omnichord instrumental.” - PASTE
“‘For No One For Now’ is deceptively simple and strangely haunting and hypnotic.” [#1/ “Song of the Week”] - Under the Radar
More on Acquainted With Night: It is the simple thing that is so hard to do. This is the paradox that musician Lael Neale has lived within throughout her development as an artist. It is the reason she became enthralled with poetry. Poems are a distillation. Lael says, “this challenge to winnow away what is unessential is the most maddening and, ultimately, rewarding part of writing a song.”
Lael’s new album Acquainted with Night is a testament to this poetic devotion. Stripped of any extraneous word or sound, the songs are lit by Lael’s crystalline voice which lays on a lush bed of Omnichord. The collection touches on themes that have been thread into her work for years: isolation, mortality, yearning, and reaching ever toward the transcendent experience.
Lael grew up on a farm in rural Virginia, but for nearly 10 years called Los Angeles home. Those years were spent developing her songwriting and performing in venues across the city, but the right way to record the songs proved more elusive. She worked with countless musicians, producers and collaborators, making entire records and eventually stowing them away. She says, “Every time I reached the end of recording, I felt the songs had been stripped of their vitality in the process of layering drums, bass, guitar, violin and organ over them. They felt weighed down.”
Despite endless frustration she never resigned and in a moment of illumination the most obvious solution presented itself: do the simple thing. In early 2019, in the midst of major transition, she acquired a new instrument, the Omnichord, and began recording a deluge of emerging songs with the intention to capture them in their truest form. Guy Blakeslee, who had been an advocate for years, facilitated the process by setting up the cassette recorder in her bedroom and providing empathic guidance, subtle yet affecting accompaniment and engineering prowess. Limited to only 4-tracks and first takes, Lael had to surrender some of her perfectionism to deliver the songs in their essence.
The first song she recorded was “For No One For Now” which calls to mind the agitated beat of driving fast on the freeway against the backdrop of the San Fernando Valley with its bent palms. Lael explains, “I’ve always loved these stretches of road where the magic of the city seems hemmed in by the mundane.” The song contrasts romantic idealizations with the banality of folding sheets and toasting bread. It highlights her oft-thwarted attempts to enjoy the day to day while her mind wanders off toward the dream, the ideal. “We almost lost this one because we had this complex method of listening back on a boombox since the rewind button didn’t work on the recorder. I accidentally recorded over a part of it so we were stuck with the first mix in all its imperfection. This was the thrilling element of recording in this way.”
On the other hand, recording “Every Star Shivers in the Dark” took a bit more time. She notes, “it was written so quickly that I needed to let it sink in, get to know it through many attempts at capturing the feeling I had at its inception.” Los Angeles is a player on this album and this song is an ode to the sprawling city, the outskirts of Eden. One can envision her walking from Dodgers Stadium to downtown, observing strangers and her own strangeness but determined to find communion with others.
Lael returned to her family farm back in April 2020 and has taken advantage of the limitations imposed by this period. She re-discovered her Sony Handycam from high school and is using it to make impressionistic companion pieces to the songs she recorded in Los Angeles. She continues, “I am enjoying the strong contrast between the songs I wrote and recorded in California and the videos I am making for them in Virginia. It offers something unexpected.”
The lo-fi quality of the films certainly suits the tone of the album. Guy comments, “an idea that was floating around in our conversations before and during the process was ‘lost tapes’ - and I think these recordings feel like such an artifact - a sonic portrait of a season of a life, a sacred tape made in private by an artist at the peak of creative power and rediscovered by chance for the ages.”
Normally a morning person, Lael recorded most of these songs in the early darkening evening and so became Acquainted with Night.