Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Australia’s latest guitar-slingers uphold a rich Antipodean pop heritage.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
RBCF - Hope Downs art.jpg


MOST BANDS EITHER GROW INTO their names over time, or transcend them. In the case of this Melbourne quintet, however, their unabbreviated banner fits very well from the get-go: ‘Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’ hints at the disturbance and the overload, as well as the elemental beauty that’s embedded in this Melbourne quintet’s self-styled “tough pop” sound. Built from a propulsive rhythm section and sprung on triple guitars that explode in spiralised patterns rather than merely jangle, these songs often deal in high emotional currency. Always, though, a laconic gaze keeps matters grounded in everyday grit. “Do you feel it all that much, do you really think it matters?” wonders Fran Keaney, amid the hurtling Feelies-worthy Time In Common, before adding: “I tell you, I do.”

This is Rolling Blackouts C.F.’s full-length debut, following two EP-cum-mini-albums. Hope Downs has the virtues of both with more agitation than either, and sees the three guitar-playing singers combine as one mutually self-supportive entity, in the spirit of arguably their country’s greatest pop band, The Go-Betweens, whose DNA at times feels baked into these beautifully framed courtship glimpses, like the yearning How Long? and bittersweet Sister’s Jeans (“I saw you falling down along Sydney Road”), or the deceptively throwaway Cappuccino City (“Coffee is cold/Service is shitty”).

Fran Keaney is the acoustic guy but feels like the quiet power; alongside Tom Russo, he provides lyrics for eight out of 10 of these glinting nuggets. Keaney’s cousin Joe White is the minority songwriter but deals the wildest leads, and with pinpoint clarity – distortion is deployed just once, on Exclusive Grave, to great effect. When he lets rip on Russo’s standout Mainland it’s like uncovering a mythical extended take of Primal Scream’s Velocity Girl. Indeed, there’s such a pronounced post-VU ’80s classicism to Rolling Blackouts C.F. that a previous era would have seen them the subject of a bloody bidding war between Alan McGee and Geoff Travis. See also the palpable influence of New Zealand pop touchstones The Chills and The Clean: White’s Bellarine is a thunderous new-build on the latter’s Point That Thing Somewhere Else, while Time In Common fuses both bands’ drollery and riptide melodies in a breathless embrace.

Titling your debut album after a vast iron ore mine in the arid wilderness of Western Australia suggests a sensitivity to this island continent’s troubled history, its conflicted present and unwritten future. Ultimately, the record triumphs via Rolling Blackouts’ deep inhabitation of their music, and the space of its creation. As Joe White sings on Talking Straight, “I wanna know where the silence comes from.” You don’t need to have shivered on the Bellarine peninsula waterfront, or got lost down Sydney Road, to understand what he means. Hope Downs is where the heart is.

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