Rolling Blackouts CF's subversive debut album 'Hope Downs' set to be a keystone of contemporary indie rock
The Aussie rockers cement themselves as the next big thing to watch out for on the indie scene with a near-flawless debut album.
Straddling the borders of the already marginal genre of indie rock, Melbourne-based quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (known to some fans as Rolling Blackouts C.F.) broke onto the scene in 2013 with a unique line-up of three alternating singer-guitarists -- Tom Russo, Fran Keaney, and Joe White -- and an equally unique sound that is equal parts jam band, 80s krautrock revival and pure indie rush.
In early 2016, RBCF rolled out their first EP, 'Talk Tight,' which was followed up by the critically acclaimed 2017 EP 'French Press', instantly making them the internet's indie champions and gaining massive radio play, both in Australia and globally.
Their jam band ethos during their live performances ensured an electrifying chemistry, gaining them a fair share of music festival slots, including the likes of Coachella.
Over the weekend, Rolling Blackouts FC dropped their much-awaited debut album 'Hope Downs'. If they were under severe pressure to follow up the highly acclaimed EPs, it doesn't show on the album, as the Aussie rockers have just cemented themselves as the next big thing to watch out for on the indie scene with a near-flawless debut album.
Aptly named after a desolate iron ore mine in Western Australia, 'Hope Downs' has a strong sense of immediacy to it, but give it a couple of more listens and like its namesake, it begins to reveal its vast depth.
The album kicks off with almost no intro, pulling you straight into the desert rock flavored opener 'An Air Conditioned Man,' as if you've just been thrown into a car speeding along the twisting roads of the Outbacks.
With steady thumping drums, a bass line that's impossible not to nod along to and Keaney's high-energy acoustic strumming serving almost as a second percussion instrument. The album is reminiscent of The War on Drugs from their 'Lost In A Dream' era, but with 10 tracks spanning just 35 minutes (slightly longer than their EPs), they don't have time to linger around with the sprawling melodies that Adam Granduciel is known and loved for. Instead, they cut right to the chase with a sense of urgency that's deliciously compelling.
On first listen, Russo's reverb-flecked vocals take second fiddle to the raw thumping groove and the helter-skelter triple guitar melodies. Take a deeper dive into the album and the lyrics hit you straight in the spine. RBCF's 'Hope Downs' is less a mine and more a minefield, with explosive word-bombs hidden under the surface of the jangly krautrock-influenced guitars.
On 'An Air Conditioned Man', they juxtapose the tyranny of consumerism and unrequited love. "Does she still think about it now and then? / In an air-conditioned home / On her air-conditioned street?" Russo asks - a line that lingers long after the song is gone. But you barely have time to process it before you're hooked on the chorus of 'Talking Straight', with the refrain "You're not talking straight", reminiscent of early Joy Division, begging to be sung along.
On the introspective and politically self-aware 'Mainland', Russo paints a picture of biting irony, recalling a vacation to his hometown near Sicily, where bathers flock to the hot springs to unwind while just a few miles away, refugees swim for their life.
Halfway through the album, the tempo eases up, but the thumping percussions are still present, allowing the rambling ballads to flourish into prominence. The biting satire continues on 'Capuccino City', a pop-tinged number that contrasts its happy melodies with morose scenes of cafes dotted with "roaches climbing the wall", where "the service is shitty". The starkness grows as the band juxtaposes simple Western indulgences with colonial violence. "FM on the stereo / Belgians in the Congo," Russo reflects.
The penultimate track "How Long" is the odd-one-out in the album - lyrically if not sonically. With words stripped down to mind-numbing repetition ("What are you running from?" the words go over and over again), it's less of a song and more of a subversive statement on romantic ballads that harp on pining and loneliness.
The verdict? The melancholic pop that Rolling Blackouts F.C. had kicked off on 'Talk Tight' and fleshed out further on 'French Press' takes full shape on 'Hope Downs'. Like the ores in the mines of Hope Downs, their sound also receives plenty of polish, courtesy of producer Liam Judson, whose efforts are conspicuously noticeable compared to their previous body of work.
While capturing glimpses of the electric energy of their live performances, it replaces the long rambling guitar jams with curt, tightly packed guitar jangles that barely give you any breathing room.
The songwriting is a markedly different from their frenzied EPs, but it's a welcome change.
It's an album that, at first listen, will impress any true blooded fan of guitar-driven rock. But it begs you for a deeper dive into the intricate harmonies and melodies, and if you do indulge, you'll find yourself exploring the recesses of a piece of work that's set to be a keystone of contemporary indie rock music.