things we like: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Living in Austin, it's easy to take music for granted. SXSW is less of a party and more of a reason to get out of town and make some money renting out your house or apartment. Sure, if you wait in line at the Spotify House on a Tuesday afternoon you might get to see a big-name artist for free, but whatever. Bands come through here all the time. The only act I planned to see at SXSW this year was Royal Trux, who were supposed to play at the Levitation festival last May. I thought that would be my only opportunity to see them. Luckily, I was given a second chance.
While waiting to see Royal Trux perform, I stumbled onto a band called Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, or Rolling Blackouts C.F. (a lousy name, but at least it fits on a poster). The band's soaring guitar lines recalled the best of '80s jangle pop, infused with a power pop edge and a hint of wistfulness that you typically only find in bands from Australia or New Zealand. As I watched them tear through a series of songs from last year's Talk Tight and the just-released French Press EP, I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm I thought I'd long since outgrown. Turns out a good band is still exciting to see live, provided it's a) Royal Trux or b) from another country.
I kid. But there's a sound from that part of the world that you don't hear too often in bands from the States. Think The Go-Betweens meets The Clean, with a mix of The Feelies thrown in. I'm a sucker for that sound—Salad Boys, Twerps, Chook Race, you name it—but Rolling Blackouts C.F. stand out even in that talented crowd. The band's pop hooks are clean, clear, and catchy: songs like "Heard You're Moving" and "Sick Bug" have singalong choruses that give them the extra oomph of memorability. The latter song especially packs a punch that sets the band apart from its peers: having listened to it about 50 times now, I can confidently say it lies on just the right side of annoying.
The French Press, the band's latest release, doesn't so much develop the band's sound as expand it, taking clear guitar melodies and expansive, mid-tempo grooves and pushing them into more mellow territory. Talk Tight was a decidedly upbeat affair; The French Press is less so, although no less pop-oriented. The title track opens the EP with a five-and-a-half-minute jam, making it the band's longest song (and also one of its best, if, like me, you appreciate a more-is-more approach to a good rhythm). "Julie's Place" breezes by at a comparatively short three minutes (its brisk guitar makes it feel even quicker), and "Sick Bug" rounds out side A with its awkward-but-charming fist-pumping chant.
On side B, the band slides slowly into rumination, moving from the bright but forgettable "Colours Run" to the nostalgic pastiche of "Dig Up" before settling into the dusty "Fountain of Good Fortune," a minor-key jam with dazzling guitarwork and a haunting chorus: Holding on to my own, burn it down when I'm gone, holding on to my own, holding on. Spoken-word asides, crooning harmonies, and tinkling piano are subtle details that push the song from good to great, and it resonates in a way that'll leave you singing after the record stops. Clocking in at five minutes sharp, the album ends the way it begins, with a strong, sophisticated song that isn't afraid to stretch out while flexing its pop muscle.
Although it only has six songs, The French Press is an early 2017 favorite; if you combine it with Talk Tight, you'd have one hell of a full-length debut. If this Melbourne band comes through the streets of your town, don't pass on the chance to see it. You never know if you'll get another. (Album available via Sub Pop)