Review Summary: Keeping guitar rock on life support.
It’s a beautiful sound when everything comes together. On 2016’s Talk Tight
, Australian guitar fetishists Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever already had it all figured out. That EP was a rocket shot straight out of early ‘80s college radio, all jittery and jangly. Last year’s The French Press
doubled down on the caffeine angle with better, sharper songs, the jams unfurling out slightly longer, the lyrics more agitated. Hope Downs
, then, is less of a proper debut than a fully formed mission statement. The interplay between Fran Keaney’s, Tom Russo’s, and Joe White’s guitars and alternately shouted and mumbled vocals is not a meticulous ménage a trois but a gorgeous country road pile-up. On “Mainland,” the guitars circle around each other like uneasy pack animals before feasting, ravenously, on the kind of guitar solo that was laid to rest long ago by American indie rock. That the lyrics disguise Russo’s disgust with upper-middle class entitlement and the disillusionment of privileged youth with what appears to be a celebration of the simple pleasures of summer reveal a songwriting talent honed to a fine point. “Talking Straight’s” vicious, increasingly frantic guitar lines, meanwhile, only embellish singer White’s pervasive anxieties: “Lay back, sink in, I’m right, this is sin, come around, give in” is one of the bleaker summer jams out there. As an anthem – which “Talking Straight” undeniably is – it is revelatory.
is not some landmark turning point for RBCF; “Talking Straight” is practically indistinguishable from anything on the EPs, and the album as a whole still retains that ramshackle verve the group is known for. There’s a helluva lot you can do with three guitars, but on the whole those things tend to sound the same over an album’s length. Where the record succeeds, however, is in keeping that youthful sense of perpetual motion and sharp wit unflagging throughout ten tightly wound tracks. Some are more successful than others; the minor key lilt in closer “Hammer” is less effective than the band thinks it is, and opener “An Air Conditioned Man’s” frenetic energy and rambling lyricism tend to exhaust, if not entirely dissipate, by the end of its five minutes. But then you come across what happens from “Sister’s Jeans” to “Exclusive Grave,” a run of melodies that had me cursing the Pitchforkian gods for having this band come up in 2018 rather than 2004, where the propulsive, whip-smart “Bellarine” would have been at the top of every buzz blog recounting the glory days of ‘80s alternative rock. “Exclusive Grave,” in particular, sounds like the utopian ideal of an RBCF song, its elastic, addictive guitar riff providing a stable counterpoint to an unusually impressionistic lyric. It builds up in increments, the guitars finding new angles to explore until they all coalesce into a beehive of white noise. It’s a wonderful bit of tension that revels in the air-guitar indulging that RBCF tend to incubate in their listeners. And then it resolves right back into the original motif, a graceful landing that belies the group’s unkempt reputation. It’s the sound of musicians that know exactly what they want to be. That RBCF already perfected their sound, three records in, has me giddy for the future.