Album of the Week: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways to New Italy

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Ever since the spread of COVID-19 began, there’s been a haze of unused energy following us all around. Whether it takes the form of uncertainty, anxiety, anger, disappointment, it just looms over every inch of refuge we might hope to find. While music is a reliable source of empathy and catharsis, singers and songwriters and instrumentalists providing a source of comfort and solidarity in the hardest of times, sometimes certain music comes around that feels like a real, true escape. On Sideways to New Italy, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s sophomore record and follow-up to 2018’s Hope Downs, the Australian indie rock outfit offer a full-length release of pent-up tension and release for those who need it most.

On many of the tracks on Sideways to New Italy, there is a rampant energy that bursts through, compelling the joy of movement to get through the pain of the moment. There’s a way to examine and reflect while participating in physical release, like on “She’s There”—a barreling track with fast-paced chord changes and raucous drums, but the lyrics demand an introspection—“Time it’s a river/Only one way, down together.” Throughout New Italy, there’s a refreshing take on guitar rock, whatever that even means these days. The band presents a collection of cathartic, driving songs, but they do it in a manner that makes it seem like every day of writing was a sunny one.

Album opener “The Second of the First” comes across like a heavier intersection between Sonic Youth and Beach Fossils, pulling on nostalgia and melancholy to fuel their instrumentals and vocal delivery. The end of the track features a spoken word passage by a close friend of the band, already ushering in the theme of closeness. “We tried to make these little nods to our friends and loved ones, to stay loyal to our old selves,” singer Tom Russo explained in a press release. Written after extensive touring behind their fantastic debut, this go-around finds the band examining their anchors, or lack thereof. Singer/guitarist Fran Keaney added, “I felt completely rudderless on tour… It’s fun but you get to a point where you’re like, Who am I anymore? You feel like you’re everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And no one in particular.”

The New Italy that the album name refers to is the drummer Marcel Tussie’s hometown—a village near New South Wales’ Northern Rivers. The connections Rolling Blackouts make to their lives outside the band and early years adds a layer of charm and humanity to the album, in a world that can feel so incredibly chaotic. In the midst of everything that’s happened since quarantine, it’s easy to forget the damaging wildfires that occurred in Australia, beginning in June of 2019. Watching this damage happen to their home country, the catastrophic events surely impacted the creation of New Italy. A strong sense of wanting to be humbled and connected rings out on this album, as the band yearns to return to their roots and pay their respects to the loved ones who supported them through the road to their success.

Label: Sub Pop
Year: 2020

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