Rolling Blackouts CF: Hope Downs review – A near-perfect debut

The Melbourne band arrive in the nick of time to perform CPR on indie guitar rock

Hope Downs
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Artist: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Genre: Rock
Label: Sub Pop

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is such a deceptively complicated name I thought I'd need to get it tattooed on to my skin to avoid jumbling the order of words into nonsensical combinations. The Rolling Blackouts, or Rolling Blackouts CF, are a Melbourne-based quintet trying to breathe fresh life into the decaying corpse of contemporary indie guitar rock.

The influence of fellow Australians The Go-Betweens looms large, and there are strong shades of The Strokes and The Vaccines at the peak of their powers.

Hope Downs opens with An Air Conditioned Man, introducing a blend of cascading riffs and distinctively Aussie lead vocals, which alternate between three singer-guitarists: Tom Russo, Fran Keaney and Joe White. Tom's brother Joe on bass and drummer Marcel Tussie complete the line-up. Tom performs a striking spoken-word section after the intricate guitar work of the opening track, capturing the increasing panic of an overstretched businessman. "As the world around him gets faker and faker, he realises he's getting further away from the idealism of his youth," Russo intones.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have made one of those almost perfect debuts that sounds like it has just fallen out of the sky. Talking Straight and The Mainland are infectiously catchy, as they forge a subtle but unique new identity out of a familiar genre, but still possessing all the reassurance and comfort of a dearly loved old blanket. On Cappuccino City, they combine wistful melancholia with bright and breezy pop and a divine guitar riff. This is an album for lazy days and endless summer nights.


Naturally, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever haven't quite arrived out of nowhere. Last year's six-track EP, The French Press, made noises for the five-piece in all the right places. Performances at South By South West and outside their native Australia led to a contract with Seattle-based label Sub Pop, who originally brought Soundgarden and Nirvana to the world's attention, and are enjoying another golden age with an illustrious roster that features Father John Misty, Beach House, Band of Horses, The Postal Service and Flight of the Conchords.

The Blackouts (let’s try and make this easier) started their recording career with a split release with another Russo brothers band called You Yangs, which they put out in the form of a frisbee.

They self-released an EP, Talk Tight, in 2015, which Sydney-based label Ivy League distributed more widely the following year. Sub Pop came knocking in 2017, and The French Press EP paved the way for this remarkably assured and sweetly satisfying debut.

Hope Downs isn't without its flaws. Bellarine doesn't quite hit the sweet spot of the other nine tunes, and just about gets away with being a pleasant filler track. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever refashion the indie rock wheel for their own purposes, but they don't reinvent it. If you've completely given up the ghost on modern rock, then Hope Downs probably won't change your mind.

However, the Melbourne outfit deserve credit for crafting gorgeous guitar pop in the spirt of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens and fellow Melbourne trailblazer Courtney Barnett.

The rolling riff of Sister's Jeans is so damn good the listener is forced to throw any cynicism to the wind. Summer is finally here after a long hard winter, so this sun-kissed soundtrack for the season makes so much sense.