Two years ago, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever released an album to soundtrack a summer that didn’t end up happening. Sideways to New Italy was one of many works left somewhat inert by the Covid-19 pandemic, its plot lines unfinished, its characters undeveloped. It was packed with songs—the rollicking opener, The Second of the First, the vibey centrepiece Cars in Space – that were guaranteed crowd-pleasers on tours that were put back and put back again.
To fill the gap where there should have been line checks, stage lights and applause the band started writing again, bringing album three into the world at a time when album two is still relatively fresh in the mind. That condensed time frame brings with it a number of pitfalls in terms of going over old ground, but they are sidestepped neatly on the expressive Endless Rooms.
It’s perhaps no surprise that their latest work is far more introverted and stylistically daring given its assembly and recording, which took place at home, as Melbourne’s rotating lockdowns wiped their diaries clean, and at a bush hideaway owned by the family of guitarist and bassist Tom and Joe Russo. In a quiet, measured way Endless Rooms reflects open-ended time to experiment and also a finessing of the band’s existing sound – they’ve gone the long way around and found their way back to where they belong all the same.
With their three-guitarists – Russo, Joe White and the acoustic-toting Fran Keaney – spending hours toying with drum machines and vintage synths during their enforced hibernations they have settled on a sound that pairs their existing strengths with the reedy skronk of Talking Heads: 77 and the multicoloured new wave of Magazine’s Real Life. To stretch this idea further, they then get The Saints to take the songs in front of a crowd, beers in hand.
Emerging from the ambient slipstream of Pearl Like You, Tidal River beautifully encapsulates this dynamic. Its jerky, agitated riff and oddball vocal treatment initially appear to be stringing us along – a spiky guitar break at the minute mark is a delightful red herring, with its spot on the second lap taken instead by a fabulous chorus that ends by smashing the opening riff and bridge together. This attention to pop mechanics is evident throughout, serving to repeatedly prod the band in the chest whenever they threaten to go too far off piste.
As satisfying as Endless Rooms is for songwriting nerds, it also doesn’t skimp on moments that will get guitar heads nodding along enthusiastically. The key element to Rolling Blackouts’ approach is the interplay and ego-free teamwork displayed by Russo, White and Keaney. The latter’s playing is almost entirely textural and supportive, while the former pair’s differing but complementary approaches are decidedly more relay team than one-upmanship death spiral.
Russo’s percussive, driving playing, which is inextricably linked to a series of Gretsches that have influenced him at various points, works beautifully with White’s Fender-based wandering, which is at turns, scratchy, insistent and ornamental. When they settle into a groove – see the alternating riffs and bouncing bass of My Echo – it is almost comically satisfying. Equally, there is an appetite here for cleaving, dramatic leads that hasn’t been so gutsily realised in the past—there is some peak-Oasis heft behind Dive Deep – and a lovely line in Trace Mountains-style psych-pop on Open Up Your Window.
Endless Rooms doesn’t match the band’s debut Hope Downs for sounding like the ideal Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever record – it isn’t as outwardly fun, nor is it as grittily rendered. Instead, it expands on the definition of what a great Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever record could be. It attacks the fundamentals of their music from new angles– adding a Britpop flavour to Blue Eye Lake, disappearing into booming, spacious lo-fi balladry on the title track – and finds that they can withstand the barrage of fresh information. Here we have a rock band who can do meat and potatoes as well as anyone out there, but there’s something else coming into focus: a rock band who can do anything they want.