It’s unfortunate that Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever released such an exceptional album at such an inconvenient time. With COVID-19 sweeping the world, forcing people to cancel their plans and isolate from each other, Sideways to New Italy serves as another source of escape from the dreary reality in which we find ourselves enveloped. The album will leave listeners longing for beachside beers, burgers and friends; which still remain out of the realm of possibility for the foreseeable future. The free-spirited and open air nature of the album feels like the perfect soundtrack to put to a cross-country road trip in the summer heat, which is why the album works so well as another source of escapism.
Returning from a tour for their critically revered album, Hope Downs, each of the members found themselves experiencing a sort of culture shock, having visited many countries. This inspired Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, Joe White, Joe Russo and Marcel Tussie to take a more introspective look into their pasts and how it informed the kind of people they became as a result.
The nostalgic qualities are obvious in the Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s new songs, which reminisce about lost loves, crazy nights and the little memories from life’s significant events. The music offers a sense of familiarity, as if listeners are being brought up to speed of the events that occurred in the lives of the band’s long-time friends that the members themselves hadn’t seen in ages.
Memory serves as a sort of motif, often embodied through allusions to home videos and old photographs found in an attic, collecting dust until stumbled upon again. Songs like “Cameo” and “Cars In Space” are prime examples of how memorabilia serves to extend the longevity of people and moments in time. “I put myself in a letter/ I send myself on the power lines/ A picture of yourself in the future/ A nation in the plains, beyond the frame,” Keaney sings on “Cameo.” Paired with these feelings of nostalgia is an equally present sense of anxiety regarding what is to be lost in time due to the fragility of memory. That further highlights the significance of more material reminders of times long gone. Keaney elaborates on this anxiety with the somewhat sullen “Sunglasses At The Wedding,” with lines like, “Why are we always the last ones to leave?/ And we fade in the marbled morning/ And we’re breaking a.m. promises again.”
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever draws on elements of surf rock from acts like The Beach Boys, and post-punk reggae rock acts like The Police on Sideways To New Italy. The influences of those bands really comes through on songs like “Beautiful Steven,” which maintains an easy groove melody alongside harmonized vocals and a twinge of rockabilly. And “Cars In Space,” a poppy ska-punk-influenced piece, takes advantage of background brass instrumentation. It sounds like something from the late ’80s or early ’90s, yet feels quite idiosyncratic as it compares to other contemporary indie rock bands.
As a quality introspection and assessment of identity in the face of an ever-expanding interconnected world; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s Sideways To New Italy is an exceptional album that maintains consistency and freshness throughout, engaging listeners and incentivizing us to play it again and again. None of the songs here feel tiresome at any point. It’s the perfect soundtrack to my first bonfire get-together, as soon as this pandemic is all over. Until then, it makes for a wonderful escape.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.