Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Sideways to New Italy – Exquisite jangle pop

Fri, Jun 5, 2020, 05:00

   
 

Album:
Sideways to New Italy

Artist:
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Label:
Sub Pop

Genre:
Rock

There are several things that shouldn’t work in Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s favour. For one, the fact that the Australian band have three singers, songwriters and guitarists in Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney, yet still manage to maintain a cohesion that most bands spend a lifetime trying to fine-tune. Secondly, their proudly-borne influences – particularly the jangly indie bands of the 1980s, such as compatriots The Go-Betweens, a band they have been compared to more than any other – should really make for something that sounds like an homage at best, a clumsy pastiche at worst.

Despite all this, the Melbourne band’s 2018 debut Hope Downs brought them international renown, and the success of that album (and its preceding EPs) meant they found themselves on the road quite a bit. That period of extensive touring has informed its follow-up, which on paper sounds like the least interesting proposition for listeners: rock stars complaining about the slog of travelling the world? Written primarily as a reaction to the disorienting feeling of being on tour and feeling “rudderless”, as Keaney describes it, instead of regaling their listeners with tales of lonely hotel rooms and endless miles of motorways, they have decided to create an inward-looking album; a so-called “totem of home” to carry with them on the road.

That personal theme carries through these songs, from the New Italy of the title (a village in New South Wales founded by 19th-century Italian immigrants, and also the hometown of their drummer) to the spoken-word verse provided by partners and friends on opener The Second of The First. Shy professions of love (She’s There, The Only One) sit astride the melancholic recollections of Not Tonight and Sunglasses at the Wedding, providing glimpses into their home lives and snatches of intimate memories in the process.

It’s the band’s sense of melody that really seals the deal, however. Listeners predisposed to a love of 1980s jangle-pop will have every sense thrilled on songs such as Falling Thunder,with its summery guitar riffs, or on the wistful rollick of Beautiful Steven. The clipped strut of The Only One recalls Orange Juice at their finest, the siren-like guitar solos of jerky indie-pop number Cars in Space sounds like something from Television’s Marquee Moon, and the way the gently strummed intro of Cameo blooms into bustling life is exquisite.

A personal album with universal appeal is a tricky proposition for most bands, but Rolling Blackouts have pulled it off with style, panache and – most importantly – a whole lot of heart.