Life is rarely straightforward – as we’ve all been reminded lately – and it’s even less so on the road. Pre-lockdown, Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – singer-songwriters and guitarists Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney and bassist Joe Russo and drummer Marcel Tussie – spent 18 months on a gruelling world tour, and it seems that endless staring out of plane windows left them questioning their identities.
This is surprising when you consider the quintet’s first two EPs, 2016’s ‘Talk Tight’ and 2017’s ‘The French Press’, which seemed so in-tune with who the band are. These records offered danceable, guitar-driven indie, their laid-back harmonies and louche lyrics putting a golden filter on the world.
The beauty lay in the simplicity of Rolling Blackouts’ sound. There were no fanciful tricks – just masterful songwriting. 2018 debut album ‘Hope Downs’ furthered this approach, sounding like a group of friends enjoying life’s simple pleasures. But second album ‘Sideways To New Italy’ is a bit more complicated.
This 10-track collection sees the band returning home and rediscovering themselves. The album’s title references New Italy, a village near Tussie’s childhood home in Bellingen, New South Wales. The idyllic destination has become something of a symbol of refuge for these young men; it was home to Venetian immigrants in the 1800s and the landscape is dotted with replica Roman statues. Russo has explained: “These are the expressions of people trying to find home somewhere alien, trying to create utopia in a turbulent and imperfect world.”
Musically, the euphoria remains. Opener ‘The Second Of The First’ nestles back into the band’s reclined, jangly groove and there’s a real sense of togetherness as Russo, White and Keaney share vocal duties. Despite the sunny sounds, though, White’s partner makes an appearance to deliver a spoken-word monologue steeped in confusion and displacement: “Nothing is the same, the street hasn’t changed / There is a light feeling in the back of my head and my mind is somersaulting.”
The jangly ‘Cars In Space’, which already feels like a familiar favourite, finds Rolling Blackouts reflecting on the sickly excitement of life on the road: “You trace your hands around the wheel / Your face it shines”. ‘The Only One’, with its blasts of harmonica, offers even more intimacy, dissecting the strange, bittersweet relief of returning home from an adventure: “Back into the new world / That looks exactly the same / When I walk through the gate / Cold sweat on my face.” ‘Not Tonight’ features a wistful refrain that would make Elliott Smith proud, replete with aching lyrics: “I’m burning all my candles down.”
‘Sideways To New Italy’ might sound like sun-splashed indie for good times, but there’s a great deal of angst buried within. Yet this is clearly also the sound of a band excited to be in the studio together; warmth and friendship seeps through every note. Rolling Blackouts have obviously been reflecting heavily on home recently – who hasn’t? – and here it seems that they’ve found it in one another.
- Release date: June 5
- Record label: Ivy League Records / Sub Pop