Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Endless Rooms

Chocolate fans have been known to argue over which is preferable: Australia’s Violet Crumble or Britain’s Crunchie, Australia’s Tim Tam or Britain’s Penguin. The Violet Crumble predates the Crunchie, and the Penguin came before the Tim Tam, but that doesn’t equate to superiority. For present purposes it’s the Violet Crumble we’re focused on due to its advertising slogan; “it’s the way it shatters that matters” was co-opted for a song (“The Way It Shatters”) on Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s recent album Endless Rooms. Non-Australians may have missed this confectionary reference, but it demonstrates that RBCF sometimes write in an idiomatic way.

The song itself is not focussed on chocolate bars but addresses more serious issues: how our lives are often the result of random acts, and asks (in the context of immigration) “if you were in the boat/would you turn the other way?” RBCF may not necessarily be known as a political band, but Endless Rooms has a more obvious social landscape than previous albums.

Their last (and second) album, Sideways to New Italy, was released in June 2020. It was well received, but it’s possible listeners were distracted by the woes of Covid-19 – the album did not sink without trace, but the circumstances meant touring was limited, and the band could quickly push on to the next project. In between lockdowns, the band got together at the Russo family retreat, a mud-brick house in the bush around two hours north of Melbourne – the house is on the album cover, and for the uninitiated the “Russo’s” are the family of two of the five band members – brothers Tom (guitar and vocals) and Joe (bass).

A concern for the environment runs through the album, with the backdrop of a traumatic national experience, the Australian bush fire crisis. There’s a “smoke cloud rolling through the old city/down all the lanes and the arcades, fogging the vision” on “Bounce Off The Bottom”; the guitar line, inspired by Fern Kinney’s “Love Me Tonight”, reflects the endless loop of “one nation under the blanket”. Fire is frequently referenced. “Tidal River”, with its Crowded House style intro, uses the symbol of the “lucky country’s” favourite past time, the Aussie barbeque, to make the point that we’re overcooking the environment (“fire up the grill ignition/and cook it beyond recognition”). The suggestion to open up your window in the song of the same name is because “the fire’s gotta breathe”

The chaotic music reflects a turbulent world – we’re “clinging on”, living in a world of thin soil but manicured hedges, jet-skiing over reefs. The most personal song on the album, the submission to love of “Dive Deep” with its deep rhythm and lead guitar hook, addresses indecision in terms of mountaintops, waterfalls, “the pearl shining/bright upon the seabed/stopped coming up for air”.

There’s a wider sense of malaise with man’s place in the world. Tempers are short and pockets are long on the sophisticated pose of “Saw You At The Eastern Beach”, where crying children and lying friends live in a post-industrial town, the petrochemical factory glittering “like so many precious stones”. “Caught Low” suggests the landscape of suburbia stands in sharp contrast to nature, with all the lawns “razor cut/greener than the Amazon/though the planet’s failing/pink horizon stretches on”. The eerie landscape of post-punk, psychedelic “Blue Eye Lake” is under falling rain, with cold decay but hot nights. The loose “Vanishing Dots” shifts from images of beauty to pollution (“paint your name/into the sand/black cellophane/dead ocean dance along”). We’re lost in a community of silence and sorrow on “My Echo”, with technology distracting us from the real world.

The album builds on RBCF’s guitar-driven sound with a sonic texture created by the acoustics of the rambling lakeside Russo retreat, and inspired by the country outside and the community beavering away within. The sparse title track reflects the physical, the “cold eternity hung in the country air”, the “dark through the shades”, as well as the work life of a band – making new worlds through song and the search for somewhere to settle.

Endless Rooms was self-produced by the band with Matt Duffy (who also engineered the album and worked with the band on their first two EPs); the familiarity of the team may have ensured a willingness to take musical risks, with the resultant “big washy celestial soundscapes”. There are hooks -“Blue Eye Lake” has anthem-like moments, but they take some time to take hold, and musically it’s a dense album. There’s more experiment than on their previous albums, with the gentle “Pearl Like You”, an evocation of a moment or moments in time, setting the tone with a loop-pedal instrumental. The raucous chaos of “My Echo” bleeds into “Dive Deep”, and there are subtly interwoven field recordings of rain, fire, birds, and wind.

The mercurial nature of the band, made of up multiple vocalists and songwriters, means that there’s always a risk of inconsistency, but Endless Rooms capitalises on individuality; together they sound like no one else, and RBCF are always far from obvious.

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Label: Sub Pop Records
Release Date: 06 MAY 2022