Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's first two EPs introduced a band that knew a thing or two about making jangle pop. With one foot in the six-string chime of the '80s and another planted firmly in the here and now, the Australian quintet crafted plangent songs built around half-sung melodies, spiraling lines, and tempos that had a low-key drive to them. It was a little rough around the edges, a little unfocused at times, but on its debut album from 2018, Hope Downs, the band has tightened things up in just the right ways and come up with something magical. The guys in the band headed off to a remote area of Australia, bunkered down with producer Liam Judson, and refined their sound until it shone like a gem. More than before, the guitars have a spiky bite, the vocals come through clearly, the rhythm section has some kick, and every song feels like a hit. The first three songs, "An Air Conditioned Man," "Talking Straight," and "Mainland," are breathtaking guitar pop, built on the DNA of the Feelies, the Go-Betweens, and R.E.M. but given new life by the emotion the three songwriters and vocalists (Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White) pour into the words and singing. Not to mention the thrilling interplay of their guitars; none of them are virtuosic, but the parts they play fit together as seamlessly as Lego pieces. The vocals also fit together nicely, sounding just different enough that each song has its own flavor and similar enough that their harmonies blend in a very warm and satisfying way. After the trio of genius pop songs knock the breath out of the listener, the rest of the record just keeps punching. Slashing rockers ("Time in Common"), lilting songs that exude nostalgic melancholy ("Sister's Jeans") and sweetness ("Cappuccino City"), and very Robert Forster-sounding pop ("The Hammer") combine to create the kind of album that any jangle pop band of the '80s would have traded their Rickenbackers for. Who knows what they would have traded to get a song as hooky and immediate as "Bellarine" or as effortlessly heartbreaking as "How Long?" Certainly few, if any, bands of the era made an album as consistently great as Hope Downs. Not many in Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's era have, either. It's a small-scale triumph of hooks and guitars from a band whose members have figured it all out and delivered a debut album that comes as close to perfect as any guitar pop album can.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra