Label: Sub Pop
Released: 15th June 2018
Melbourne-based “tough pop/soft punk” (their words, not ours) types Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are not your average, short-lived buzz band. With two mini albums already under their belts before work even began on this, there are bands whose whole, mayfly-ish careers would fit comfortably inside the time taken between RBCF’s formation and now.
But the progress the five-piece showed across those two releases – with last year’s Sub Pop debut ‘The French Press’ making good on the melodic promise of 2016’s ‘Talk Tight’ while losing none of its nervy, headlong rush – suggested that not a moment had been wasted.
Now, ‘Hope Downs’ moves further, taking everything that made the mini-albums shine and building on it. The title, the name of a huge mine in a region described by Wikipedia as “large, dry [and] thinly populated” is intended to give the sense of “standing at the edge of the void of the big unknown, and finding something to hold on to”.
Indeed, it’s an album which reflects the beauty and danger, and what Douglas Adams called the “mind-stretching expanses of nothingness and eerie quiet”, of Australia. Rolling Blackouts have a sun-scorched sound, and it’s brighter than ever here, but it’s still more picnic at Hanging Rock than barbecue at Summer Bay.
Every inch an opener, ‘An Air-Conditioned Man’ bursts in, doing that very RBCF thing of sounding enthused, but tensely so, like all the beauty and joy is painted on a crumbling carapace. Bright but fuzzy, with a tune that’s continually clambering but never quite reaching resolution, it’s all knotty, intertwining lines from the band’s three guitarists. The same jangling tangle of strings is all over ‘Talking Straight’ and ‘Mainland’, which addresses the migrant crisis poetically, but passionately (“We are just paper boats bobbing adrift afloat/While winds of fortune shove us where they will”).
With as many vocalists as guitarists, RBCF are capable of more shifts in tone than your typical jangle-poppers, too. ‘Time In Common’ – with loud echoes of early Go-Betweens (an easy comparison to make – “I think [they’re] part of our DNA”, singer and guitarist Fran Keaney has said) – sits comfortably next to the sweetly aching, vaguely Nashville twang of ‘Sister’s Jeans’, the ‘Reckoning’ era-R.E.M. beauty and bluster of ‘Bellarine’, and ‘Exclusive Grave’’s taut, slashing rhythms. It’s all well worth waiting for. Rob Mesure