Album Review: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs
Melbourne’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever emerged with a finely-formed sound and style on their debut EP Talk Tight in 2016, which was further boosted by a record deal with Sub Pop, and sharpened on the impeccable second EP The French Press the following year. Their combination of effervescent guitars playing in unstoppable fluidity, coupled with disgruntled lyricism, was potent on all six of the tracks of that second collection, which was one of the most easily replayable releases of the year. The brevity of both EPs was a strength, as they were out and done with a flash, before the sound became homogenous. Now RBCF return barely more than a year after The French Press with their debut album, Hope Downs; a test to see whether their winning formula can be pushed to 10 tracks.
The answer is a pretty clear yes. RBCF let themselves fly immediately on the opening trio of tracks, which don’t steer far from the path of their former material – but do add exciting new flashes. One of the central driving forces of RBCF’s music is the fluency of the intertwining guitars playing off the frustration of the lyrics. Opening track ‘An Air Conditioned Man’ is full of twanging notes, getting more and more frenetic as the track rambles along, while Fran Keaney is singing about being stuck in traffic. The lyrics often seem like the speedier flights of fancy in the vocalist’s mind, while the body is in stasis; ‘Talking Straight’ picks up on this perfectly, where the singer is listening out for his friend’s car in the driveway, while the vaulting bassline supports the more abstract voyages as he demands “I wanna know where the silence comes from/ where space originates.” ‘Mainland’ is boisterous and sounds like a perfect celebration of sun, sea and sand, as it was inspired by Tom Russo’s visit to Sicily to learn about his ancestors – but actually turns out to be a song about disillusionment and privilege. Album tracks ‘Time In Common’ and ‘Bellarine’ put us in a more nostalgic mindset, but are still effective, particularly the hook on the latter, when all cuts out except the drums, leaving RBCF’s perpetual motion machine spinning in mid-air momentarily. Closing track ‘The Hammer’ ties things up with a nice minor key bow, and lyrics about spending time kicking up dust brings us nicely back around to their usual frustrated stasis.
None of the songs on Hope Downs are a massive leap in style from what we’ve known from Rolling Blackouts in the past, but there are a few minor outliers. The lonesome wanderer of ‘Sister’s Jeans’ is nicely personified in a slightly slower track that revs up tension with high and buzzing guitars tugging away under the surface, until they reach front and centre for the finale. ‘Cappuccino City’ is like the overcast cousin of their usual songs, and makes a lovely change of pace; languid and moody, coupling well with lyrics about the titular establishment, where there’s “Roaches climbing the wall/ Coffee is cold/ Service is shitty.” ‘Exclusive Grave’ is relatively abstract, with lines like “Your tongue moves like a shining sword/ In your suit of armour powder blue,” and the band lets the guitars off the hook a little more, for an unkempt but thrilling rock out, before they capably smooth things over again for a clean landing. The only real dud on the album is ‘How Long?’, which just seems like the basic idea of most RBCF songs slowed down and condensed to a droll drag.
With Hope Downs, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have adroitly taken their trademark sound and expanded it into a thoroughly enjoyable album – and they’ve done it in rapid time. Their sound is so winning that getting tired of it seems like a far off point, but it’s surely something these guys will be thinking about when they do go into making their next release. For now though, they’ll be out there on the road, playing their irrepressible guitar jams, with no end in sight.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 19th June 2018.