Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 12

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs

Initially I was a little sceptical about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. I found them just a little too clean, a little too obviously referential. Those doubts still nag away in the back of my mind but listening to Hope Downs I find it easier to suspend suspicions and enjoy the noises. Those noises are certainly infused with the spirits of a plethora of Antipodean antecedents and if they do not yet quite blend these spirits into something splendidly unique then at least we can say there is still time, there is still hope.

So RBCF are not as raw or edgy as contemporaries Terry, for example (whose ‘I’m Terry’ set would have been in this series for sure if I had not already listed both previous albums in previous years and really I kind of feel it’s already at a point where we can take it as a given that if there is a new Terry record then it will have been a favourite in the Unpopular world) and nor are they as strange and exploratory as, say The Verlaines. RBCF may lack the languid luxury of The Triffids or the exquisite, ineffable charm of The Go-Betweens, but they are getting there. They are getting there.

Getting away from the Southern Hemisphere references, let’s state that there are moments on Hope Downs when I’m reminded a little of Wes Gonzalez when he loved a guitar, and it is tempting to describe RBCF as something like Let’s Wrestle with the edges sanded off and the surface French-polished. It’s this polish that puts me in mind too of The Shins and perhaps then it is no surprise to see RBCF finding a home on Sub Pop. I appreciate that some fans of an older Sub Pop incarnation have found nothing of interest in the sheeny shiny Shins and so I expect will see nothing of worth in RBCF and that is fine. Me, I have no emotional attachment to that particular past and always could find the mood for a slick(ish) Indie Rock/Pop charmer.

At its best then, as on the excellent ‘Sister’s Jeans’, this short album is an exuberant sunlit tease. It knows what buttons to press and it clicks them in just the right order. Like much of ‘Hope Downs’, ‘Sister’s Jeans’ is opaque in meaning. There are real world references (“All along Sydney Road”) and details (“You stuck to your shirt, clung to your lemonade”), yet the whole barely holds together as a narrative. This is just fine as far is it goes, for there is more to art than storytelling, and ‘Sister’s Jeans’ is certainly adept at capturing the feel of anxious heat and nervous isolation. It’s the creation of shrouded, suggested meaning that RBCF do rather well across the whole of Hope Downs. It’s the sense of being caught in a whirpool of imagery in which everything is familiar and yet nothing is definite. Specifics blur to become texture and we grasp meaning almost by osmosis.

In the end then this is how ‘Hope Downs’ passes and connects: An album of brevity where words and notes twist and turn against themselves; a string of moments throwing abstract forms on a barely rippled lake. Looking ahead, I look forward to seeing squalls tumbling over the mountains to upset the balance, but for now this will do. This will most certainly do.

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