Album Review: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to the New Italy

With ‘Sideways to the New Italy’, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (RBCF) have clearly announced their presence as one of the most accomplished and uniquely Australian indie bands around. And, in my opinion, they can proudly take their place in the Pantheon of indie greats on a global stage too.

However, it’s the Australian connection that is the most distinguished feature for me. I have always been fascinated by the role geography plays in musical development and the way Australia has always served as a petrie dish to foment musical innovation. Bands like The Scientists, The Birthday Party and Underground Lovers developed a unique style parallel to and sometimes prior to developments in the northern hemisphere (post-punk, grunge and shoegaze respectively) in an era where the only connection to the outside world was a copy of the NME delivered months later than publication. There is also the debate about whether Brisbane band The Saints’s Stranded was the world’s first real punk single.

For me, the twin pinnacles of a specifically Australian sound – something that captured a certain Australian genetic code through the sound and lyrics were two album: The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional and The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane. Whether it be capturing a vision of bleached-white beaches under endless blue skies or the striped sunlight filtering through the gum trees, these albums also reflected a canker deep inside the sunshine heart – a veritable poison jellyfish in the water, snake in the grass or shark in the bay that typifies the nature of Australia. Beautiful one day, poisonous the next. They also reflect a yearning for home – its no coincidence that both albums were mostly written overseas in relative isolation from the familiar.

‘Sideways to the New Italy’ has delivered something that reflects this fascinating dichotomy and as such have earned the right for RBCF to take their place amongst the best Australian exports. A shimmering, sparkling album that somehow, despite its global appeal, is wired deeply into an Australian genetic code. Joy and beauty with an undercurrent of despair and melancholy.

New Italy is a village near New South Wales’s Northern Rivers – the area where drummer Marcel Tussie comes from which was founded by Venetian immigrants in the late-1800s and now serves as something of a living monument to Italians’ contribution to Australia, with replica Roman statues dotted like souvenirs on the otherwise rural landscape. Guitarist/Singer Tom Russo says:

These are the expressions of people trying to find home somewhere alien; trying to create utopia in a turbulent and imperfect world.

This sense of place, sense of home is a feature of an Australia culture: one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world that is yet so isolated and distant. Fran Keaney says that the themes of the album developed during a year where the band was far from home on tour:

I felt completely rudderless on tour. It’s fun but you get to a point where you’re like, Who am I anymore? You feel like you’re everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And no one in particular.” 

Russo adds, 

We saw a lot of the world, which was such a privilege, but it was kind of like looking through the window at other people’s lives, and then also reflecting on our own

‘Falling Thunder’ epitomises this feeling – jangling guitars and sky-high choruses that are expansive, cinematic and pulse-quickening – with lyrics capturing a sense of discombobulation: is it any wonder we’re on the outside falling like thunder from the sky.

‘She’s There’ – a single reviewed by me back in April – is a yearning wistful song that captures its romantic leanings and sense of despair and regret. RBCF are unashamedly a guitar band – here there are delicious layers of acoustic and electric guitars chiming through the layered harmonies, with a video capturing the harsh Australian landscapes:

‘Cars in Space’ is a glorious, effervescent track with blistering arching guitars – the RBCF unique sound is the three layers of guitars – acoustic sparkle under an electric buzz saw. And it displays the intrinsic ability of RBCF to write compelling pop songs filled with melody and hooks that cling like a leech:

The latest single, ‘Cameo’ reveals what is clear throughout the album: RBCF’s inherent sense of humour – one that has the wry archness redolent of Robert Forster from The Go-Betweens:

‘Sideways to the New Italy’, above all, is a complete and consistent album – ten songs of pop perfection with no dips in quality and where there is nothing out of place. It instils a sense of euphoric joy to listen to, and evokes the sense of a place to call home.

The album is out now through Sub Pop and Ivy League Records and you can order here.

RBCF has announced details of a UK tour next year:

UK/IE Tour Dates:

Mar 4th | Brighton, UK – Concorde 2*
Mar 5th | London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire*
Mar 6th | Birmingham, UK – O2 Institute*
Mar 7th | Oxford, UK – O2 Academy Oxford*
Mar 9th | Bristol, UK – SWX*
Mar 10th | Leeds, UK – Leeds Irish Centre*
Mar 11th | Manchester, UK – O2 Ritz Manchester*
Mar 12th | Edinburgh, UK – The Liquid Room*
Mar 13th | Glasgow, UK – Queen Margaret Union (QMU)*
Mar 15th | Dublin, IE – Vicar Street
Mar 17th | Cardiff, UK – Tramshed*
Mar 18th | Nottingham, UK – The Level*
Mar 19th | Sheffield, UK – The Foundry*

* = w/ Pip Blom

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1 Comment

  1. […] course this a welcome return following the magnificent album ‘Sideways to the New Italy‘ which made Backseat Mafia’s top 50 albums for 2020 and my favourite 2020 music list from […]

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