There’s something unmistakeably Australian about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Their laid-back demeanour, wry lyrical delivery, passion for retrograde indie rock and the nuances that can be found within it.
The latest guitar-wielding artists from the Pacific’s current burgeoning scene are a band of dreamers, whose upbeat and hook-laden indie surf punk offsets the sombre undertones of their lyrics and has captured the hearts of many a listener, in the wake of the word-of-mouth success of 2017’s ‘The French Press’ EP and rollicking lead single ‘Talking Straight’. It’s a jangly, glowing anthem that best captures Fran Keaney’s trademark wistful lyricism to the soundtrack of a stew of guitars bouncing off one another with joyous glee, anchored down by a driving bassline. It’s fair to say they are not well oiled machine, but that’s kind of the point - there’s a likeability to such an earnest approach.
Jangling hooks and noodling guitar lines are the modus operandi on ‘Hope Downs’, a record that sonically elicits rays of sunshine and a meandering quality. Opening track, ‘An Air Conditioned Man’, is a thick slice of hedonistic, sun-drenched Americana reminiscent of an Australian-accented The War on Drugs, complete with a screeching guitar solo, fervent groove and spoken word dénouement.
Elsewhere, ‘Mainland’, possibly the album’s best track, shows off the band’s storytelling chops, proving that there is more to Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever than mere twanging guitar riffs. Singer/guitarist Tom Russo (one of the band’s trio of songwriting guitarists) talks of how the track was influenced after “reading about a refugee crisis unfolding not far away in the Mediterranean Sea. The song is about longing, disillusionment, privilege and holding on to love as a kind of shield.”
When you look beyond the borderline generic indie rock song structure that the band often espouses, there lies a keen, observant eye for vivid lyricism: “Wade out past the rotting pier, out to the open water / Son of a red-roof city and her, the full moon's daughter.” In between the warm glow of the guitar noodling Russo goes on to ponder the irony of Australia’s fierce immigration policy: “We talked about the land of our fore-mothers / Now that we’ve shut the gate, it would be funny if it didn’t make you want to cry.”
As an album, ‘Hope Down’ is at its best when it’s at its most pensive. Much like Courtney Barnett before them, ‘Cappuccino City’ sees them take on the growing hipsterfication of the Australian suburbs with a wry smile, untangling a tale of lost love and nostalgia over a laidback pop groove. Whilst the spiky guitar riffs and chugging bass of surf rock number, ‘Bellarine’, concludes with the beleaguered and accepting sigh of ‘I never did my best.’ Likewise the record’s best musical flourishes come when things veer for the more unpredictable, case in point being the country-tinged ‘Exclusive Grave’, offering a melodic, forlorn call to arms before veering to the left and notching up to a triumphant slacker rock crescendo.
However, this is the key flaw to the album. The record’s reluctance to stray from its overly familiar song structures does create an air of repetitiveness. Sonically there is little new to experience here with the band opting for a more throwback lackadaisical approach, something reflected in its recording in a house in the Australian bush. The Parquet Courts echoing ‘Time in Common’ dabbles with themes of isolation and time yet ultimately offers little more than filler, while ‘Sister’s Jeans’ drifts too close to mid-‘00s era Oasis territory with its rough vocal delivery, sense of bombast and nonsensical chorus.
While it clearly has it faults, ‘Hope Downs’ remains a resilient debut record from a band that - when at their best - have an impressive knack for crafting eloquent, ear-worming indie pop music. Intricate yet carefree, contemplative but jovial in tone.
With ‘Hope Downs’, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have an album that radiates the warmth of the Australian sunshine and the grubbiness of the bush. It’s a road record to soundtrack a hazy journey across the outback in search of a lost love, contemplating the world whilst swigging on a beer. ‘Hope Downs’ is far from perfect, but it has charm in abundance.
Words: Rory Marcham
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