It’s somewhat strange that more hasn’t been made of Kiwi Jr.’s built-in indie clout. Usually in situations like this, the boon of Alvvays’ Brian Murphy serving as guitarist would be a pretty easy starting point (just as it has been here), but in a rather pleasing change of pace, most of the focus on this band has been the critical acclaim awarded to this debut album upon its release in their native Canada last year. Granted, the major caveat with that is that these sorts of literate, often tightly-condensed indie-rock are always prime candidates for a tongue bath from outlets that want to prove their reputability, but to dismiss Football Money solely on those assumptions would be unfair to an album for which praise genuinely seems to be coming from a place of real sincerity.
And, as ultimately hypocritical as it might sound after that preamble, Football Money is indeed worthy of a lot of the positive reception it’s been getting. At just under half an hour it’s not the most meaty of listens, but Kiwi Jr.’s insatiable knack for a pop hook combined with a nimbleness and jangle that’s only more ear-pleasing gets a lot right across the board. It’s lightweight in a way that’s not disposable, and still has the wordiness and perceived intelligence to come out with a handful of standout moments even within the often highfalutin Pitchfork-indie rubric. That in itself is pretty impressive, and even if Kiwi Jr. could afford to run with it a bit further, the fact that Football Money produces enough to like in this capacity is a commendable feat in its own right.
It’s mainly a case of the band leaning into that lightness of touch, even if they’re definitely trying to mine as much verbosity from a frequently disjointed writing style as possible. It’s understandable though, especially on a track like Salary Man where frontman Jeremy Gaudet looks at the boredom of the workaday lifestyle with a vocal style that’s more emblematic of resignation that outright ennui, and how their own sense of escapism does mirror Kiwi Jr.’s sense of free-wheeling creativity on this album. Of course, that could be a major oversimplification of it all, especially in the layers present on the likes of Murder In The Cathedral and the title track which come dangerously close to keeling over into pretentiousness, but interesting imagery tipped with wry humour comes as a natural baseline for an album as comfortable in its simplicity as this.
That shouldn’t be taken as a slight either; comfort isn’t indicative of complacency, and it’s that balance which makes Football Money such an easy, enjoyable listen. The production has a warm, vintage quality that balances out spots where it might feel a bit too thin, and with the surf-rock skips of Murder In The Cathedral and Gimme More, the wistful pianos and acoustics backed by a firm bass on Comeback Baby, and the watery, jangling tones orbiting around Britpop or even a band like The La’s on Swimming Pool, Kiwi Jr. have a stable, classic foundation that’s well-constructed enough to avoid sounding too dated. It’s unavoidable to an extent given the instrumental nucleus of this sound, but really, the only instance where it significantly falls flat is on Soft Water Apple, a clunky interlude that an already short album just deems even more unnecessary. Beyond that, Kiwi Jr. aren’t innovating to any great degree, but there’s a stability and consistent solidness that somewhat circumvents that and winds up being pretty enjoyable.
Perhaps that doesn’t sound like the end result of an album that’s been awarded with as much love as Football Money has, and it’s generally lower expectations going into it that’s caused that. This is certainly a well-rounded album in almost every sense, but Kiwi Jr. are still lacking some of the really killer features that can take them from the small-scale indie spotlight and into something a bit more permanent and far-reaching. That said, Football Money has all the hallmarks of an album that’s going to find a dedicated audience with no trouble whatsoever, and that’s unquestionably a good thing when Kiwi Jr. are showing some real promise and songwriting chops on this debut. There’s definitely more to come from this band, and in the scene they find themselves in, having the certainly to claim something like that is a rarity indeed.
For fans of: Best Coast, Alvvays, The New Pornographers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Football Money’ by Kiwi Jr. is released worldwide on 17th January on Persona Non Grata Records.