Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever wastes no time in getting to their strength—jangling, propulsive pop-rock—on their debut full-length Hope Downs. There is no table-setting track here. No slow fade in or superfluous into. In fact, opener “An Air Conditioned Man” almost seems to pick up in medias res when you press play.
This seems appropriate for R.B.C.F., an Australian quintet that hit the ground running a few years ago. They released their excellent first EP Talk Tight on the Sydney-based record label Ivy League, then moved to Sub Pop for 2017’s The French Press EP. The former is a bit more relaxed and acoustic, while the latter cranks up the volume and pace. Together, they’re a thrilling introduction to a promising young band.
Hope Downs fulfills that promise, first by tumbling out of the chute on “An Air Conditioned Man” and then by barrelling through nine more taut pop-rock gems in just over half an hour. The basic components here are pretty simple: driving (often motorik) rhythms courtesy drummer Marcel Tussie, indispensable bouncy-ball bass lines by Joe Russo and a dense tangle of guitars — strummed acoustics and spiky electrics — constructed by Joe’s brother Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney. The three guitarists also trade off lead vocals from song to song.
“I kept my head down, two eyes on the paving,” Keaney sings in “An Air Conditioned Man,” as Joe Russo’s bass runs wild and guitars squall in the background. “Caught in a necktie. A lifestyle in single file.” R.B.C.F.’s lyrics tend toward impressionism, with common themes that hover around the madness and the mundanity of modern life. Songs like the relatively breezily beautiful “Cappuccino City” and the barbed “Exclusive Grave” touch on issues of privilege and class by contrasting satin sheets and stinking streets, while “Mainland” intones “We are just paper boats, bobbing adrift. Afloat while winds of fortune shove us where they will.”
But this band produces enough power to steer itself. “Talking Straight” charges forward at the pace of early R.E.M., with someone else’s guitars in place of Peter Buck’s. (Hey, no band’s perfect … well, expect maybe early R.E.M.) “Time In Common” sneaks some twang into the sound, landing somewhere near country-post-punk. Meanwhile, “Sister’s Jeans” and “How Long?” prove R.B.C.F. have it in them to slow down a bit, open things up and soar. The latter, especially, is lovely; it sounds like the Pixies without the snarl.
That bodes well for the future: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have more tricks up their sleeves, it seems. For a debut, though, a couple tricks are enough, especially when you’ve already mastered them.