Sideways to New Italy (5 June 2020; Sub Pop) is the second studio album by Australian indie rock band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. The album’s title references New Italy, a village of 200 inhabitants north of Sydney, founded by Venetian migrants, which is near the family home of drummer Marcel Tussie. This idea of a base, or a refuge, was important to the whole band - who include singer and guitarists Tom Russo, Joe White and Fran Keaney -, as they returned from a gruelling 18 month tour to promote their 2018 debut album, Hope Downs. As bassist Joe Russo explained: “These are the expressions of people trying to find home… trying to create utopia in a turbulent and imperfect world.”
It is the ‘exhausted disconnect from reality’ caused by being so many months on the road that inspires the 10 tracks of Sideways to New Italy. As Keaney puts it, “We saw a lot of the world, but it was kind of like looking through the window at other people’s lives.” The resulting hooks and lyrics may not be quite as sharp as on their debut but its cheery riffs nonetheless make it a breath of fresh air in these difficult times. [We are] “reaching forward,” says Keaney and “trying to imagine an idyll of home and love”.
One of the changes Rolling Blackouts CF brought in on their latest album was ‘democracy in the songwriting stages’. “This time we tried to bring the original idea into the band a lot earlier in the process than we had in the past,” Keaney explains. The band realized that, although the process took longer, they preferred this way of working.
However Rolling Blackouts CF’s famous ‘triple guitar attack’ has thankfully remained as a corner stone, with Tom Russo’s Gretsch featuring heavily, along with other electric and acoustic guitar parts.“Guitar wise, we all have our different techniques and improvisational styles, and after a while it kind of becomes clear where everyone wants to sit,” says White. “It’s kind of unspoken, but a lot of these songs are built on our chemistry and just knowing where to play.”
The album kicks off with The Second Of The First, which includes a spoken monologue and refers to the band’s return from their tour: “Nothing is the same, the street hasn’t changed, There is a light feeling in the back of my head, and my mind is somersaulting.” The strongest part of the track however is the acoustic rhythm, backed by Johnny Marr-type guitar parts.
The opening track is followed, with barely a break, by the album’s four single releases, each accompanied by very well-received videos. Falling Thunder provides an immediate buzz with its piano-driven intro, ebullient arpeggios and sunny chorus. This is immediately followed by She’s There, which features a strong beat along with acoustic guitar, but unfortunately has lyrics that fail to excite. Shortly afterwards, the frenetic but outstanding first single, Cars in Space, provides a bassline that suggests the whole band have been influenced by The Smiths, in this case Andy Rourke. Around the three-minute mark the song segues into a short instrumental before it heads off again into a thrilling jam that often feels like it is only just about being held together.
On the fourth single release, Cameo, Keaney returns to the theme of love, whose lyrics may feel rather sickly-sweet to some, until Russo and White ride to the rescue by trading exciting electric guitar licks.
The Italian migrants sought “to build a utopia where your heart is from”, according to Tom Russo, and Rolling Blackouts CF have sought to do something similar, which they have largely achieved, with this album. Their jangly, guitar driven pop is both complex and unforced and provides an upbeat and sunny sound for anyone who wants, or needs, to look to a brighter future.