OUR SINS OF SONIC OMISSION, RECORD REVIEW: ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – TALK TIGHT & THE FRENCH PRESS

OUR SINS OF SONIC OMISSION, RECORD REVIEW: ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER – TALK TIGHT & THE FRENCH PRESS

“It’s about remembering where you came from and making sure you don’t act like a wanker, basically.” Tom Russo – guitarist/vocalist from Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever to London In Stereo , March 29, 2017.

Earlier this year unbeknownst to this music blog Melbourne’s self proclaimed soft punk rock/tough pop quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever released an excellent six track EP The French Press to rave reviews from a number of prominent independent online publications and music critics. It followed up the equally impressive Talk Tight, originally released in Australia in 2015 and now out on international and vinyl release for the first time. But for this music blogger, that obviously occurred in some parallel universe. The substantial attention of online behemoths Pitchfork, Stereogum and Spin Magazine and some more than reputable blogs was completely missed and their signing to seminal U.S  label Sub Pop was also overlooked. And despite a heap promotional emails in the inbox dating back to mid last year from their publicists in both Australia and the U.S. all went unopened. At least an accusation of being influenced by hype can’t be levelled in this direction.

Perhaps the blind ignorance came down to the fact that no-one in Indie30 circles has listened to the either of the national public radio stations dedicated to independent music in Australia for many years nor does anyone live in Australia’s music capital, the indefatigably independent and talent saturated city of Melbourne where community radio is alive and strong. Maybe its the slowly waning respect for online music behemoths like Pitchfork who rightly gushed over both releases in reviews unread. Possibly it stemmed from instinctively overlooking their on the surface nonsensical but with added knowledge and reflection actually quite clever band name. They actually added the Coastal Fever bit to avoid confusion with a band in the U.S., actually providing further meaning to the term Rolling Blackouts. And sometimes when you run a small non-financial music blog like this in your spare time unplugged, unconnected and unbeholden to any particular place, ‘scene’ or ‘style’ and you’re swamped by correspondence from all quarters you can’t handle, much of it unfortunately unworthy of opening, real gems such as this can often be missed. Whatever it was it has to be said that overlooking the existence of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is among the biggest misses in Indie30’s nine year existence. Regrets? Yep, I’ve had more than a few over the journey but this one really annoys me and so it should.

So, on to rectifying it then. If you’ve been under the same rock as I have, some context on the band is needed as an overnight “success” they ain’t.  The band had its current genesis in 2013 from late night sessions at the abode of Fran Keaney who was joined by great friends Tom Russo and Joe White (also a cousin). For a decade they had dabbled with intent together at different times as well as playing individually in various bands. The point of coming together on this occasion however, was to finally form a pop inspired, three pronged, guitar driven songwriting trio. One that would follow through on and realise the multitude of ideas each possessed by bringing them to life in a form that would become driven by an undoubted Australian and British inspired post punk and jangle pop aesthetic. This would be complemented through incorporating the sparing elements of classic Aussie 70s pub rock as well as taking inspiration from the self effacing yet defiantly insistent and tuneful rhythms of revivalist c2000 Swedish pop.

Guitar wise, this saw White and Russo assume electric duties while Keaney took the acoustic with the three also deciding they each would contribute vocals to better reflect intent and enhance effect. Both decisions would turn out to be crucial ones alongside enlisting the considerable talents of Tom’s brother Joe on bass and Marcel Tussie on drums. This was to lay down the antecedent building blocks for what would become their trademark sound and approach. The strident tones and clarity of ideas present in the songwriting on the bands two EP’s were then honed organically from the growth and confidence they gained from experiences playing the live traps of their hometown and on the road.

After putting four tracks down for what would become the still unreleased four track CD-R bedroom recording, Angeline, they recorded and released their first material proper later in 2014 in the form of a split EP called Flying Disc with fellow Melbourne outfit You Yangs. It featured two tracks, the wryly rollicking ‘Clean Slate’ which would appear on their debut EP/mini LP and the more circumspect and spacious ‘Cat In My Head’. The former was picked up by community radio station RRR and later youth public national broadcaster JJJ. During 2015, they kept developing their songcraft and after a couple of false starts and mislaid plans eventually got to recording their debut EP/mini LP over three days in a friend’s rehearsal space and in an office above a grocery shop on Sydney Road, Brunswick.

Originally self-released as a five track EP on Ivy League* in October 2015 in Australia, Talk Tight led with the insistent, post punk and almost surf rock inspired ‘Wide Eyes’ and notice soon came from near and far garnering more interest from local and national radio, Pitchfork and a number of international blogs. Inspired by a line and in-house joke from Matthew Young (King Parrot), Talk Tight is marked by its overall immediacy, wryly reflective and self aware lyrics and a rhythm section fizzing with energy. Overlaying it all is a plethora of tautly structured guitar melodies that seemingly expand and grow at exactly the right time. And that fizz is generated whatever the timing or speed. It’s just as important and effective on the more leisurely tracks like swaying melodic opener ‘Wither With You’ and on the beautifully wistful introspection of ‘Tender Is The Neck’ as it is on the aforementioned ‘Wide Eyes’ the four to the floor ‘Write Back’ or the almost countrified ‘Heard You’re Moving’.

Often bands who sport three guitarists don’t know what to do with the third with it often ends up just hanging forlornly under utilised around the singer’s neck. The aforementioned decision to make it a three way on guitar was crucially important in forging the band’s thrillingly infectious sound. Keaney’s acoustic strumming patterns and occasional lick central to adding vibrant flourishes to a more than adept rhythm section characterised by Russo’s and Tussie’s centrally important groove. This leaving Tom Russo and Keaney to work their magic interplay, whether in perfect unison or in angsty opposition. While undoubtedly a strength, the employment of three working guitars could have easily overcooked what is, in the end, carefully constructed songwriting that relies on the creation of space as much as it does on what fills it. That they’ve actually used it to enhance that space is all the more impressive.

Which brings us to The French Press, their latest EP from March this year and first release internationally. The six tracks see the band take a more contemplative approach to both the lyrical content and musical arrangements. Lyrically it sees the band take on serious themes of social and cultural disconnection, liberty and deprivation of such, selfishness and the sense of entitlement and the invisibility of privilege to those who enjoy it. It also contains nostalgic vignettes invoking good times and lost relationships. Production wise it’s sound is warmer and fuller and while musically, its style is eclectic, wide ranging and rhythmically insistent. Russo’s rolling muscular bass work underpins melodies that glisten and shimmer and the band take a more expansive approach to their songwriting arrangements than on Talk Tight. It’s one where time and space are brought to the fore and chord progressions are deliberatively held and accentuated for effect.

Despite their obvious differences, these elements are especially evident on dual paced pub rock anthem ‘Sick Bug’, frenetic yet spacious ‘Colours Run’ and the critically insightful closer ‘Fountain of Good Fortune’. Although each track is structured around a firm rhythm and embellished by melodic guitar lines and smart vocals, they are hardly formulaic. There is clearly ample room for flexibility in vocal and musical arrangement which stems from the three pronged exchange on vocal and guitar and the democratic nature of how ideas are implemented and songs are written. Witness the sprawling five and a half minute opener ‘French Press. It’s subject matter of brotherly disconnectedness on multiple levels is sketched out vocally through an online international call with Russo and Keaney as protagonists. Their vocals are employed in separate verse, a metaphor for not only the physical distance between the siblings but also their distinctly different lived experiences as the penniless, jaded and lonely traveller and the cashed up, trapped and bored white collar worker respectively. This is compounded by their culturally defined inability to convey their feelings to each other despite both being miserable albeit very different reasons. The disconnect is further exacerbated by failing technology as both vocalists come together in broken call and response style reflecting an ultimately futile attempt to communicate before being cut off. The vocals fade before all three guitars represent what’s left unsaid by launching in stream of consciousness fashion into an outro of great intensity and emotion, distinct yet exhilaratingly complementary in rhythm and tonality.

In a band context, developing and adhering to cogent themes lyrically and creating a coherent musical structure that is elastic in nature and allows license and freedom requires great connection between its players. members. It is clear there are innate senses at work here carefully nurtured by mutual respect and ability. This is difficult to develop and even harder to pull off and ultimately serves as the band’s greatest strength, a strength that will serve them well in their future endeavours.

Having said that both Talk Tight and The French Press need to be taken for the sum of their parts rather than their whole and the band fully admit they are collections of songs rather than singular statements. They were also created without too much external attention and with no real ambition in mind other than to write what they considered to be great pop songs. However, the reception to both releases has led to a realisation that they now perhaps have something that others want. It’s within this context in between trips to North America and Europe all the while still largely fulfilling the responsibilities of their day jobs that the band have been occupied writing new material at their rehearsal space back in Melbourne. The fruits of that labour will appear on their debut album planned for the first half of 2018.

While complete anonymity is something they no longer enjoy in independent music circles and outside expectation inevitably creates a heightened sense of creative self-awareness artistically, they need only remind themselves that their musical road has been a long one and continue to focus inwardly on just making what they consider to be great pop songs. They’ve already made more than a few. And they have nothing to prove to anyone.

James Stocker – October 11, 2017.


 

In further recognition of their efforts, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have been enlisted to play the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival early next year in Singapore, Auckland and across Australia alongside the likes of Slowdive, The War On Drugs, Father John Misty, Mac DeMarco, Aldous Harding, Kllo and Dream Wife. Tickets here.

Below you’ll find collection of their music videos in descending chronological order front ended by their live studio performance in late March for Seattle’s KEXP. You can purchase both EP’s digitally and on vinyl right here.

 

Clean Slate, French Press, Sick Bug, Wither With You (Live on KEXP)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the studio performance at KEXP, Seattle. March 28, 2017.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Official

Live Performance

 

Sick Bug

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the EP, ‘The French Press’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Facebook

Audio Stream

Official Video

 

Julie’s Place

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the EP, ‘The French Press’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Facebook

Audio Stream

Official Video

 

French Press

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the EP, ‘The French Press’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Twitter

Audio Stream

Official Video

 

Write Back

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the EP, ‘The French Press’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Soundcloud

Audio Stream

Official Video

 

Wide Eyes

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the EP, ‘The French Press’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Rolling Blackouts C.F. Bandcamp

Audio Stream

Official Video

 

Clean Slate

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (AUS)

From the Split EP w/You Yangs, ‘Flying Disc’, Self Released & the Mini-album, ‘Talk Tight’, Ivy League/Sub Pop.

Audio Stream

Official Video


NOTE: *While they have a physical distribution deal with one of the major labels, Ivy League is categorised by the Australian Independent Record Association as an independent label.