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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways to New Italy Music Album Reviews

The Melbourne quintet’s second album strolls through familiar territory with good guitar work and good songwriting that never quite peaks where it used to. 

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever is a combo whose three-guitar attack is hot—steadily but not dangerously so—super-intense, and super-catchy. After a pair of 2017 EPs and their 2018 debut Hope Downs, the Australian quintet has steadily lost interest in tracks with characters and situations: the bric-a-brac of sharp lyric writing that goes down well with the band’s relentless forward, backward, and sideways motion. Sideways to New Italy does little to change this suspicion. These 10 tracks refine RBCF’s formidable strafing abilities. They roll. They’re feverish. They also coast.

Devoted not to narrative so much as six-string calisthenics, RBCF are a treat when they play from within one of the aural dust clouds they’ve stirred. On “Cameo,” Fran Keaney lays out a romantic scenario of uncommon banality (“Your voice had an old melody/Like sweet river water,” egads) whose drama gets goosed by Tom Russo and Joe White’s cross-talking electric licks. Or at the three-minute mark in “Cars in Space” when Keaney, Russo, and White pick away at discrete parts: ripple effects that rattle its foundations for the sake of testing them. And on “Sunglasses at the Wedding,” Keaney moves his fingers as if each acoustic strum births a new color trail.

RBCF get in trouble, however, when they want us to pay attention to words and such. This is more of a problem on the material sung by White, responsible for the this-is-pop moments that require a slight deceleration. White settles for phonetic placeholders on “She’s There” and lets the tug of Joe Russo’s excellent bass work and an impressive series of sparkling licks carry him through “The Only One.” If the Acme facelessness of those titles gives you pause, consider: Hope Downs alone sported “An Air-Conditioned Man” and “Cappuccino City”; 2017’s “The French Press” isn’t even about the best way to prepare coffee—it’s one of the sharpest songs about sibling tensions in recent memory. But here’s the thing: RBCF are the guys you would’ve called to write that song.

If great bands create the terms under which listeners will accept them—in effect teach listeners how to listen to them—then good bands fold their hands on their desks as listeners review their antecedents. With the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” as ur-text, RBCF careen into the Feelies’ chordal cul-de-sacs, emulate the scrappiness of the Clean, and even soak in the bubbly freshness of forgotten early-’90s college radio favorites like the Ocean Blue. Until Sideways to New Italy, their marvelous racket distracted from their derivativeness; now, only this good band’s racket will do.

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