To badly paraphrase an old British kids’ TV show, for some musicians life on the road means that dislocation, that’s the name of the game.
This was certainly the case for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, the Melbourne quintet who became hostages to the success of their 2018 debut album Hope Downs, a release which took them on an eighteen-month journey around the world in various planes, trains and vans.
When normal feels like a foreign place then it’s clearly time to reset. The band, both as individuals and collectively, took the strangeness of familiarity and used it as the fuel for Sideways To New Italy, a reference to a tiny village in New South Wales founded by 19th century Venetian migrants, a place which is also drummer Marcel Tussie’s home.
If Hope Downs was a pleasantly retro overdose of eighties’ guitar jangle (Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney all play), then its follow up is no conscious attempt to pivot away from that. This retracing of steps was apparent from the winsome opening notes of lead single Cars In Space, which despite being about the imminent end of a relationship will still keep fans of R.E.M. and Real Estate particularly happy.
Hands up, this is a simplistic take, but although some of the songs here are tied to different locations – Darwin (Cameo), Melbourne (Beautiful Steven, The Cool Change), the tiny town of Rushworth (Not Tonight) – they more or less break on the listener at the same angle. This chattering urgency is present from the beginning on The Second Of The First as feelings of confusion about place are easy to hear: ‘Nothing is the same/The street hasn’t changed/There’s a light feeling in the back of my head/And my mind’s somersaulting’.
For White as lead writer there were also more personal things at hand: instead of letting the world the band had spent so much time experiencing dictate the mood, the idea of writing high concept pieces was abandoned, replaced by love songs; the sweeping She’s There; the charming, woozy The Only One. The album is, he admits, equally filled with nods to the band’s friends and immediate circle, in its way their effort at trying to remain connected to them whilst setting off to communicate such abstracted tales around what is, after all, such a lonely planet.
This might sound a little overly esoteric for what is without argument an album of angular, agreeable pop, but even if things here are usually what they seem, the gentle warmth of Falling Thunder, and Sunglasses At The Wedding’s quirky counter flow, still manage to open new doors for a group rapidly turning staying in their lane into a virtue.
This is the thing about travel; it broadens the mind but can narrow your perspective. Sideways To New Italy won’t change many people’s minds about them one way or the other but next time they’ll need to use a passport, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever will be singing about home long before they ever make it back again.