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Sideways To New Italy (Ivy League)

Things are not all they appear to be for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, a band whose name is two words too long for ease, and a map or two short for a full weather report.

The sparkling guitars and melodies of singing/songwriting triumvirate Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney, which sometimes are as frisky as a six-month-old kitten, beam on high; the energy that springs from drummer Marcel Tussie and Joe Russo, who right from the propulsion of the opening track The Second Of The First, are simultaneously self-effacing and absolutely crucial, often makes this feel like a dance record for the introverted mover; and images such as “The sun is in our eyes”, early in the record, “You wrap your hands/Around the wheel/Your face, it shines/In the flicker of the film”, around the middle point, and “Sunglasses at the wedding/you stand there in brand new sun tan”, late in the piece, project a kind of all-Australian nod to endless skies and pleasure, with an old fashioned keenness for spinning around.

If you haven’t heard Cars In Space, an early single from this record, imagine one of those fairground attraction songs Johnny Marr would throw on to a Smiths album to kick start an indie disco: the bass so upfront it’s practically in the room before the rest of the band arrive and the guitars – so many guitars – twirling their skirts, high-wire walking, bouncing around like dodgems, while the voice just sits on the ride letting itself be taken.

It all feels like the second album from the Melbourne group is inclined to throw light rather than shade. Yeah, nah.

Let some of those lines play out a bit longer and you find the person standing at the wedding with a new tan is “freezing,/In the election season/You’re counting up the numbers/20 minutes to save the world”; the face shining in the flicker of the film is actually causing more of an ache as “You want it simple/How hard you make it”; and while the sun is in the eyes, the lead up positions you differently as it asks “Is it any wonder/That we’re on the outside/Falling like thunder/from the sky/Call it by its name now/Hold it like a knife/Is it any wonder it stings/Sun is in our eyes”.

Have another listen and those melodies are streaked with subtones of subtle confusion or melancholy or ambivalence. It’s not that hope is absent and joy postponed, rather that things which seemed more straightforward before – say on their debut, Hope Downs – now have been coloured by experience, disappointments and victories.

Meanwhile under those jingling and jangling guitars is playing out as many musical weather changes as a tropical day: stormy fronts, bursts of sun, sudden chills, occasional sticky humidity, afternoon lulls. This is not the relatively uncluttered vision of Talking Straight and Cappuccino City. What’s happened in the lives of these blokes this past year or two, you wonder.

“Well they don’t know how hard it is/To keep the story straight/When you’ve been running close all night/You’ve been dicing with fate.”

As much as I enjoyed the free flow of Hope Downs, and the nods to a past I never let go (memories of The Go-Betweens, half the output of New Zealand’s South Island, New York’s Bowery bars – all of whom can still be heard here incidentally - and now you can add more Brisbane, from Custard to Hungry Kids Of Hungary), there’s something meatier and deeper in this record.

Maybe uncertainty and disconcerting life changes suits them.


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