Melbourne indie rock quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s sophomore full-length, Sideways to New Italy, arrives almost exactly two years to the day of the release of their debut studio album, Hope Downs. This is a band for whom consistency is more important than, say, having an easy name to remember. But seriously, one listen to this new album clearly denotes the two years between the band’s first and second records have been a time of growth in terms of technical aptitude and sonic variety.
Sideways to New Italy is opened with “The Second of the First”. The band’s three guitars feature prominently as the upbeat number showcases jangly strumming that dips into minor chords as the boys trade lead lines and solos. The track is more thoughtful than optimistic and features a spoken word bridge that alternates between a female and male monologist. “Falling Thunder” is next and proves to be a wonderful standout moment. Here, the thoughtfulness is replaced with optimism when the band launches into a catchy, uplifting chorus, singing, “Is it any wonder, we’re on the outside, falling like thunder, from the sky.” The album’s lead single, “She’s There”, arrives hot on the heels of “Falling Thunder” and smartly capitalizes on the momentum of its predecessor.
A pleasant instrumental changeup occurs production-wise at the record’s heart. Unlike Sideways to New Italy’s first four songs, “The Only One” begins with a poppy bass riff and drums. Here, the guitars take a more passive role. “Cars in Space” brings back the tempo and style of the record’s opener just before the multifaceted “Cameo” appears. “I heard you talkin’, your voice had an old melody, like sweet river water,” Fran Keaney sings tenderly just before the drums drop into the mix, offering a reggae-inspired rhythm. “Cameo” builds careful tension before opening up during the song’s choruses. The record’s lone near-balladic moment, “Sunglasses at the Wedding”, is Sideways to New Italy’s penultimate track. Percussion is kept to a minimum as drummer Marcel Tussie’s only involvement is to briskly work a closed hi-hat as Keaney sings lovingly in a higher register that perfectly fits the track’s tender mood. “The Cool Change” closes things out appropriately, creating an everybody-on-their-feet moment complete with a feel-good chorus.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have done their homework, improving upon, and, at times successfully straying from, the quickly paced, strum-heavy sound they trademarked on their debut. The production team on Sideways to New Italy did a fine job pulling back the guitars at specific moments in order to showcase the group’s rhythm section. Rolling Blackouts’ sophomore record features a solid set of songs that collectively manage to surpass their previous full-length in terms of stylistic variety and lyrical maturity.