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After years spent looking out at landscapes and loved ones and an increasingly unstable world, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have turned their gaze inward, to their individual pasts and the places that inform them, on their second full-length, Sideways to New Italy.
Led by singer-songwriter-guitarists Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney, the guitar-pop five-piece returned home to Australia after the relentless touring schedule that came following their critically regarded 2018 debut Hope Downs. Feeling the literal and metaphorical ground under their feet had shifted, the band began grasping for something reliable. For Keaney, that translated into writing "pure romantic fiction" and consciously avoiding the temptation of angsty break-up songs, while Russo looked north to a "bizarre place" that captured the feeling of manufacturing a sense of home when his own had disappeared.
The New Italy of the new album’s title is a village near New South Wales’ Northern Rivers – the area drummer Marcel Tussie is from. A blink-and-you'll-miss-it pit-stop of a place with fewer than 200 residents, it was founded by Venetian immigrants in the late-1800s and now serves as something of a living monument to Italians' contribution to Australia, with replica Roman statues dotted like alien souvenirs on the otherwise rural landscape. The parallels to the way the band attempted to maintain connections and create familiarity during their disorienting time on the road was apparent to Russo. "These are the expressions of people trying to find a home somewhere alien: trying to create a utopia in a turbulent and imperfect world."
The record's geographic identity emerged from the band losing their grip on their own, whether that was through the pressure of touring, the dissolution of relationships, a frustrating distance from their daily lives – or some combination of all three – that came from being slingshotted all over the world, playing sold-out headline tours and festivals including Coachella, Governors Ball, Primavera Sound, All Points East, and Pitchfork Music Festival.
The notion of crafting, in Russo’s words, “a utopia of where your heart’s from,” permeates Sideways to New Italy, in which early attempts at writing big, high-concept songs about The State of the World were abandoned in favor of love songs, and familiar voices and characters filter in and out, grounding the band's stories in their personal histories. There’s something comforting, too, in knowing the next time they’re buffeted from stage to stage around the world, they’ll be taking the voices of their loved ones with them, building a new totem of home no matter where they end up.
Darryl says: It’s been well documented that we love the sunshine rich sound of The Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever here at Piccadilly; two EOY Top 10 entries with 2018’s ‘Hope Downs’ and 2017’s mini-album ‘The French Press’ speaks for itself. And now the Australian quintet have returned with ‘Sideways To New Italy’, a superbly crafted and exceptionally well produced album that’s easily on par with their previous releases.
Kicking off the album with the timeless “The Second Of The First” it’s clear that they’ve lost none of their songwriting wizardry, all the key RBCF elements are here; interlocking jangling guitars, pristine melodies, a driving rhythm section and hooks that’ll earworm their way around your head for months on end.
Track after track of effortless sunkissed indie-pop follow including the standout “Cars In Space” where the intertwining triple guitars really hit their peak, layers upon layers of blissful golden soundz over an infectious motorik beat. This is RBCF at their best, where all five members click into a groove that you’ll never want to end.
‘Sideways To New Italy’ is the sound of a band that’s happy to be back in the confines of their studio again having spent around 18 months touring the world; finding warmth in the familiarity of their setting, but wiser for the adventures and tribulations that they’ve encountered so far. Here’s hoping the next album is just as good!
The Second Of The First
The Only One
Cars In Space
Sunglasses At The Wedding
The Cool Change