Belonging in a foreign world

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Australian quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever deliver an exercise in sun-drenched indie rock and contemplative reflection, which explores the lost sense of familiarity and identity that spawns from an exhausting touring schedule.
  • Album: Sideways to New Italy
  • Performer: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
  • Style: Indie rock
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Reviewer: Eddie Russell

The album’s title derives from a small rural town, New Italy, which is 700km northeast of Sydney. It’s a village that was established by Italian immigrants and developed in the same style as traditional Venetian architecture in an attempt to recreate a part of their home.

As with these immigrants, the band look to their roots to find belonging in a foreign world.

Sideways to New Italy takes a deep dive into the essence of home and character, amplified by the ruthless detachment of constant travelling that the Rolling Blackouts faced.

These retrospective intakes are drenched in the dreamy vocals of Joe White, Fran Keaney and Tom Russo, who share lead signing duties.

On the opening track, The Second of the First, the confusion of displacement at home is exemplified by a spoken word montage with lyrics like, “nothing is the same”, “the streets haven’t changed”, “and my mind’s somersaulting”, which melts into an unintelligible murmuring.

The feelings of disorientation and uncertainty are prevalent throughout the album, with further exploration of these emotions in Cameo (“my head revolving, my soul divides, my feet collide”) and Not Tonight (“ ’cause even when you’re here, it’s like there’s no one else around, I’m sleeping on my tears”).

It’s obvious that the band relies upon experiences on the road for lyrical content, which is vividly recalled in Cars in Space: “at the intersection, waiting on the corner, bottom of the freeway, before it opens up”.

Rolling Blackouts also evoke a broad range of natural imagery – summer rain, thunder, sunshine, moonlight, rivers – which serve as both a reminder of home and a means of processing the passing of multiple environments. Ironically, however, the lyrics are somewhat vague and cryptic, which threatens to disrupt a meaningful connection with listeners.

The strengths of Sideways to New Italy lie in the sonics, personifying the visual imagery of the lyrics with ease. The trio of sparkly, jangly guitars interweave and overlap throughout the album, like the aforementioned rivers in Cameo and She’s There.

This is epitomised in the instrumental break halfway through Cars in Space, with Joe White and Tom Russo’s guitars swaying back and forth together, as if in conversation. The use of this interplay is not too dissimilar to the wizardry of the Rolling Stones during the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The rhythm section plays an integral, yet subtle, role in Sideways to New Italy. Marcel Tussie’s cymbal-heavy drumming ticks away like a rattlesnake’s tail. Its upbeat tempo significantly contributes to the gleaming indie sounds, prominently heard on Cars in Space and Sunglasses at a Wedding.

Joe Russo’s basslines are bright and poppy, snaking through the songs with an infectious groove and providing an essential stability, particularly in The Only One and Falling Thunder.

On the surface, there’s a difference between the thematic lyrics of nostalgic yearning for recognisability and the musical aesthetic of jangly pop. However, the two serve each other well – they combine to create a surreal, dreamlike record, reminiscent of floating down a river under the dry heat of the summer sun, casual and carefree.

One of the standout songs is Cars in Space, the fundamental essence of the album’s sound, which boasts swaying melodies and a seriously euphoric solo. It’s best enjoyed at full blast in the car speeding down a highway.

The best track, however, is Cameo, a buoyant anthem that’s bound to unlock all those warm, fuzzy feelings inside and get you moving.

The overall feel of the album is consistent, which can get repetitive – its sound doesn’t deviate from its shiny, sharp guitar riffs and pensive philosophy. It’s far from a sprawling, genre-bending mosaic of sound, but that is not what it needs to be.

This is a superbly crafted, airtight, jangly indie rock record.