Five years into their career, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have slowly moved out from under the shadows of their more famous kin. Their first two EPs – The French Press and Talk Tight – helped the Melbourne quintet develop a reputation as a frenetic and lively indie-rock band. Their live performances put them on par with the likes of fellow Aussies Dune Rats, DZ Deathrays, and even King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. All that is left for cousins Fran Keaney (guitar/vocals) and Joe White (guitar), brothers Tom Russo (guitar/vocals) and Joe Russo (bass), and Marcel Tussie (drums) is ARIA acclaim (Australia’s equivalent to the Grammys), and their debut album, Hope Downs, could just do this.
At ten songs over 35 minutes, Hope Downs is a tight and well-manicured record that glistens of indie rock’s recent history. It echoes the ’80s and ’90s college radio scene, which spawned the emergence of R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., and Modest Mouse. At the same time, it is a tribute to the Victoria capital’s own legacy – that of infectious jangle rock and meandering yet insightful songwriting. In other words, the LP is a rousing, urgent, and exhilarating affair.
“An Air Conditioned Man” opens the album with an emphatic uppercut. The song explodes with dueling guitars and propulsive rhythms before settling into a semi-fast-paced tempo. An intensity, tough, remains with Keaney’s bursting vocals and his description of one man’s panic and confusion within the technology-driven, social media-obsessed world. The cool “Talking Straight” and the shimmering “Mainland” follow, offering melodic-driven grooves perfect for a summer road trip. The latter, in particular, has the feel of a lengthy journey into the ever-changing waters, as Tom Russo, like a young Michael Stipe, shares his observations of what is before him.
“And all I saw was burning blue fading into blinding white.
Wade out past the rotting pier, out to the open water,
Son of a red roof city, and her, the full moon’s daughter,
And back on the mainland, back on the mainland.
Not all trips, however, end memorably or happily, which is evidenced on the head-noodling “Sister’s Jeans”. Although the chiming guitar and summertime vibes are attention-grabbing, Feaney’s story line is the showstopper. He recounts witnessing a life-changing event, possibly an accident or one succumbing to addiction. With regret, he sings, “I heard the warning, I saw you falling”. The shoulder shimmying “Cappuccino City”, conversely, is one’s vindication. It is a piece of jangle-rock brilliance that recalls Dick Diver’s intimacy and craft for making soothing, redemptive music.
The album’s standouts, though, are when RBCF channel their youth and turn up the intensity. A Parquet Courts-like punk vibe chimes through the punchy “Time in Common”. The feisty approach provides the perfect complement to Russo explaining how he feels stuck in a specific time and place. The throbbing “Bellarine” opens with Joe Russo’s fantastic bass line. It sets the tone for the story of a man who struggles as a father, fisherman, and breadwinner. It’s the band’s version of Old Man and The Sea.
Arguably the record’s highlights are “Exclusive Grave” and the finale, “The Hammer”. The former commences with Feaney’s deadpan vocals and a groovy, pop-rock vibe that slowly becomes more urgent and desperate and ends with a great guitar solo. His lyrics are poignant, tackling those who sit in their ivory towers and nonchalantly watch themselves on the news. Meanwhile, “The Hammer” is a slice of brilliant sun-drenched indie rock. It is groovy, rapturous, and one joyous anthem. The chiming guitar line echos Melbourne’s pioneering jangle-rock history, but the surf-rock grooves are of the Gold Coast. As much as this tune must be played at every beach party, Keaney delivers a great tale about growing up and finding one’s way.
In many ways, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have grown up and found their way. That is all the way to the top of the Aussie music food chain with Hope Downs. The record resonates with the glory of some of indie rock’s great bands, yet at the same time it’s the sound of a rising band emphatically cementing its place within the wider music scene. Or as Keaney says on album’s closer, RBCF are now the big boys who are bringing the hammer down.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have just completed a quick Aussie tour. In August, they will kick off a whirlwind, global tour, which starts in Europe before hitting North America. They return home for some Aussie spring gigs, and then head back to Europe. Dates and information are available here.
Featured photo by Warwick Baker
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