Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have been on the Brightonsfinest radar for the past year now. Their excellent The Great Escape performance, where we described them as “The War On Drugs but with more off-kilter guitars” enabled them to become a favourite over the last few months. The band, however, have pretty much been in place for a lot longer than that. Prior to forming the band in 2013, singers/guitarists Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White had played together in various garage bands, dating back to high school. “Over the years, we built up our own sound and style, guitar pop songs with bits of punk and country” says Keaney. “Then when we started this band, with Joe [Russo, Tom’s brother] on bass, Marcel [Tussie, Joe White’s then-housemate] on drums, we had this immediate chemistry.” This immediate chemistry is extremely evident on their debut record, Hope Downs, which exhibits everything we’ve loved about the band – ragged, but smooth nonlinear indie-rock – but with a much broader landscape than they’ve shown with their EPs.
The album title, taken from the name of a vast open cut mine in the middle of Australia, refers to the feeling of “Standing at the edge of the void of the big unknown, and finding something to hold on to”. There is an inherently Australian feel to the record too, with its rambling backdrops, and jangly guitar sounds. None more so than album opener ‘An Air Conditioned Man’, with its sprawling exordium, a new territory for the band. The song, which portrays the slow burning panic of a salaryman, features some trademark intricate and tricky guitar lines between the three guitarists, as they dodge and weave between each other with ease. It’s remarkable that, with such a guitar-heavy sound, Hope Downs never seems messy, disjoined or long-winded. Throughout, it’s perfectly polished indie-pop with more hooks than you could shake a stick at.
Singles ‘Talking Straight’ and ‘Mainland’ combine to kick the album off in some style. ‘Talking Straight’ is an animated, buoyant number with a charging energetic breakdown that sends the song to its crashing finale, with its beautiful, twisting guitars. Likewise, ‘Mainland’ keeps the summery bluster up with its lustrous guitars and laid-back tambourine rhythms, but with darker lyrical content of: “Rotting pier” and a: “Black sky” that extends Rolling Blackout’s musical arsenal into two-layered territory. In fact, a lot of Hope Downs stands on two different pillars: micro storytelling with macro themes. During the writing process the band described that they, “Were feeling like we were in a moment where the sands were shifting and the world was getting a lot weirder. There was a general sense that things were coming apart at the seams and people around us were too”.
This is encapsulated with final song on the record, ‘The Hammer’ which, like the album as a whole, matches an ingrained sense of anguish at the state of the world with touches of fanciful indie songwriting. All things considered, Hope Downs could be a pessimistic record but the band have such a knack for dreamy lyrical content, matched with upbeat pop influences, that it’s a righteously good time. Importantly, the band stand out because of their three vocalists. Each of them promote unique aspects of power to the songs, and then, when they join together, they become a powerful beast capable of the exciting, captivating and punchy choruses that run through their sound, it’s an intoxicating, supremely confident debut album. For the run of their debut record, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have refined a sound it took the likes of Future Islands and The War on Drugs three or four albums to conquer – and that’s no mean feat.