On their sophomore effort, ‘Sideways to New Italy’, Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever deliver a heartfelt and superbly relatable record that is the soundtrack for any summer road trip. It is also the soundtrack of five guys’ long journey to find home, and the ride is an exhilarating and energising one.

As spring turns to summer in the northern hemisphere, winter sky slopes beckon in the south, and travel restrictions gradually lift, the travel itch intensifies. Although air travel remains questionable, road trips seem like a great alternative. Every journey that coops us inside a fast-moving machine for hours requires a soundtrack, and Australian indie wunderkinds Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever provide this on their new album, Sideways to New Italy.

The irony in this scenario is that RBCF’s jangly, sun-kissed, hip-shaking sophomore record sees the band wishing to settle down. Instead of endlessly touring across the globe, they seek stability in the familiar. As opposed to discovering new places, they wish to rediscover who they are. And rather than finding solitude on the road, the quintet long for the comforts of home. In the immortal words of U2, they are running to stand still. From the first note of Sideways to the very last, Tom Russo, Joe White, Fran Keaney, Joe Russo, and Marcel Tussie are constantly racing home, and they are taking listeners along on this exhilirating ride. 

“The Second of the First” jump-starts the record with rollicking energy. Tom Russo, White, and Keaney’s three-headed guitar attack drives the track into White Denim territory, making wistfulness feel exciting. Despite the track’s driving nature, the band looks into the rear-view mirror and realises the only things that have changed are themselves. “Nothing is the same, the street hasn’t changed”, friends of the band speak in spoken-word. The bouncy surf-rock of “Falling Thunder”, which features a tremendous guitar bridge, walks the narrow tightrope between liberation from the past and trying to hold onto it. As Joe Russo’s bass rumbles, the band see their lives illuminate in the clouds above them.

“Is it any wonder?
We’re on the outside,
Falling like thunder
From the sky
Call it by its name when you sing low,
Hold it like a knife against you.
Is it any wonder it stings,
Sun is in our eyes?”

Images of people they know (or knew) emerge throughout the record, and they provide lessons and warnings. On the swimming “Beautiful Stephen”, RCBF recall a friend’s last moments, who utters, “I wanna stand on the edge again / I wanna step off”. The solemn, chamber-pop number, “Sunglasses at the Wedding”, is similiarly enshrouded in memory of a person. As an acoustic guitar is interpreted by the sparse steel guitar, Keaney recalls how he and another kept “breakin’ A.M. promises again” and were “always the last to leave”.

Through devastation, new life and old loves can still spring anew, as revealed on the horn-drenched, guitar-pop “Only One”. White’s lyrics are intentionally vague, as his words could allude to rekindling the embers with an old flame or reconnecting with one’s faith. This same approach is unveiled on the trembling pop-rock “Not Tonight”, as an evening is spent talking about love, religion, war, and all the things that crush the human soul.

The rip-roaring “She’s There” leaves no doubt about its message. It’s an anti-love song: beneath its sunny surface lies a lyrical reminder that ended relationships don’t always go away. Sometimes fragments linger in physical and emotional ways, as Tom Russo reveals: 

“I shoulda done better but the time rolls on
Open the window, in the air,
In a mirror, she’s there
Every time I speak her name
There’s a cold shiver through my veins”

Through this sprawling album, two songs best depict the band at a crossroads. The vibrant “Cars in Space” is like The War on Drugs on a feverish ride through the moonlit Mojave Desert. Tussie’s rolling rhythms mimic the racing of your heart through the dark and mysterious landscape, and all that can be heard are the voices in your head:

“Come around through the cold
In the warmth of the car
I’m the raven
I’m the keeper of your secret”

Meanwhile, the riveting and poetic “Cameo” is the band removing their on-stage attire and revealing their true selves. With each throbbing bass line, crystalline guitar, and pulsating drum roll, RBCF take “a second chance, a deviation”; “take a high-wire jump”, and “put myself in a letter”. They no longer want to be afterthoughts in their friends’ and families’ stories nor their own. Instead they want to be at the heart of the tale and at the forefront of their minds. Only then will they find not just a bit of peace; they will have found home.

Sideways to New Italy is out now and is available from the label’s store or Bandcamp.

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