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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever Deliver Summer Romance on ‘Sideways to New Italy’

Aussie indie band’s second album might be the best guitar record of 2020 so far

Peter Ryle*

It’s always fun to witness a band grow into how great they can be right in front of your eyes, and that’s exactly what happens with the second album from Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever. On their excellent 2018 debut LP, Hope Downs, these Australian guitar romantics proved themselves to be must-hear masters of Eighties college-rock scholarship. Their tense, pretty melodies evoked bands like Felt or the Go-Betweens, and their driving, empathetic rhythm section brought to mind REM or the Feelies, making for songs that felt instantly memorable even as they kept revealing new mysteries and pleasures. They’ve upped their game even further on Sideways to New Italy, and the result is a perfect summertime indie-rock record. 

With three guitarists who all write songs, Rolling Blackouts’ music could feel cluttered or disconnected, but it never does. The band is in love with the hypnotic rush of a nice sunny jangle, but they never settle for catchy drones. Drummer Marcel Tussie gives tunes like “Cars in Space,” “The Second of the First,” and the pre-breakup banger “She’s There” a combustible urgency that’s rare for music this textured and relatively twee. The level of craft is striking throughout — check out the way “Falling Thunder” starts with eclectic piano out of a soul-kissed Seventies AM hit, than opens up into its own kind of rich, airy grandeur, or the way “Cameo” seems like it might just be a skippable folk-y afterthought, then grows into a panoramically verdant guitar weave. 

No matter which genre they touch on, it’s always done at its brightest and most optimistic-sounding — from the radiant New Wave bounce of “The Only One” to the way “The Cool Change” recalls the post-R.E.M. ear-candy of Let’s Active and Game Theory, to how “Sunglasses At the Wedding” suggests Belle & Sebastian if they came from somewhere where it almost never rains. 

Listen beyond the glistening exteriors and you’ll hear the old story of indecisive twentysomethings searching beyond their native ambivalence to find moments of meaning and beauty — whether it’s in the everyday wonder of “liquid crystal city elation,” the sweet feeling of summer rain, or the early days of a new relationship. “We’re changing with the seasons,” they note on “Falling Thunder,” as if they’re the first band that ever came upon such a conceptual possibility. Their wonder will pull you in.