‘Sideways to New Italy’ is breezy guitar pop from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Rolling Blackouts
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

If Hope Downs — one of 2018’s most exciting records — proved anything, it’s that Australian five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever sure knows how to rock. The group’s signature wave of explosive rock ’n’ roll is so feverish and enthralling, it’s hard not to brand it as one of the best up-and-coming guitar bands of the current decade. Sideways to New Italy, the band’s sophomore effort, continues the group’s penchant for high energy thrills while adding more variation to its sound. The new album is more emotionally complex and wistful than the band’s previous work, a sign that Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever has learned how to slow things down — if only just a little.

Sideways to New Italy, named after a small village north of Sydney where the band’s drummer Marcel Tussie hails from, is about maintaining a sense of home. Written after a long period of touring by the band’s singer-guitarist trio, composed of Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney, the album explores feelings of dislocation and belonging. In a press release, Keaney described the purpose of the record: “A lot of the songs on the new record are reaching forward and trying to imagine an idyll of home and love.” Over the course of its 10 tracks, the album traverses the highs and lows of such a journey to create a largely thrilling listening experience.

Many spots on Sideways to New Italy are brilliant. Lead single “Cars in Space” goes toe-to-toe with the best songs in the band’s catalog; atop an unstoppable rhythm, the bite of fuzzed-out guitars and tasteful flares of saxophone lift the track’s vocal harmonies skyward. The following track,“Cameo,” exudes warmth in ample supply, unexpectedly bursting to life past the 30-second mark. The song’s chorus is pure elation, as Keaney shouts, “You take a high wire jump/ You feel time drippin’ away/ Fallin’ in the burnin’ blue.” The lyrics of “Cameo” operate as sensory triggers, opting to service the driving energy of the track rather than tell a coherent story, proving that the band is at its most successful when its guitars are at the forefront of the music.

Under heavier scrutiny, the album slightly falters when lyrics are placed front and center as the band shifts directions. The frenetic energy of the song “She’s There” is slightly muffled by its less than enthusiastic lyrics: “I open the letter, but the writing’s wrong/ I should’ve done better, but the time rolls on.” Elsewhere, the cliche songwriting on “The Only One” dulls the song’s beautiful arrangement, peppered with distant sounds of harmonica that create a sense of longing. Though there are plenty of good lyrical moments to spare, the weaker songwriting sticks out among the softer arrangements. 

Still, the band’s new direction toward the nostalgic mostly works. Though the band wears its inspirations from the likes of R.E.M. and The Clean on its sleeve, the sheer fever-dreamlike energy of its songs allow the music to avoid coming across as derivative. “Falling Thunder” evokes a windows-down drive to the beach, radiating optimism. When the band sings, “Is it any wonder?/ We’re on the outside/ Falling like thunder,” it does so with starry-eyed confidence, adding to the dreamy, feel-good quality of the song.  The ballad, “Sunglasses at the Wedding,” takes a pensive turn, vividly evoking nostalgia as rippling guitars illuminate the song’s lyrical vignettes. The song’s feelings of impermanence become clear in its chorus as Keaney asks, “Why are we always the last ones to leave?/ And we fade in the marbled morning.”   

Ultimately, Sideways to New Italy is yet another sunny offering from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, an enjoyable 39 minutes of breezy, nostalgia-infused tunes and pure guitar pop jams perfect for summertime cruising. Though it fails to reach the euphoric heights of previous Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever releases, Sideways to New Italy is by no means a bad record. In fact, it’s pretty darn good — and right now, that sounds like it could really hit the spot.

Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].