Back in November, Outsideleft's music editor was tasked with identifying thirty albums from 2018 that had made an impression on him, and he came up with just twenty nine. In amongst these, he suggested that we include a re-release of a record from fifty years ago. Begrudgingly (as you'll hear on the forthcoming podcast) we included it. But twenty-nine albums, not quite thirty is it? Then, sometime in December, as we played the album at number two over and over again, we discovered further great music from fellow Australian artists, we fell in love with the raucous belligerence of Tropical Fuck Storm and, after much reluctance, Courtney Barnett as well. We also discovered another album that was so utterly overpowering that we had to include it. We'll excitedly reveal it in a few days.
So, there are two albums by two Australian bands that share the number two position. Here's the first....
2a Hope Downs - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (Sub Pop)
At the end of 2016, over 400 staff at the Hope Downs iron ore mine in Pilbara, Western Australia received an email from their management thanking them for their efforts during the year. What followed though was a shock, as they were then informed that the mine would have to close for two weeks over the Christmas period. Those without an adequate amount of annual leave to their names, would be forced to take unpaid leave. It was one of those instances when you clearly see the vile ruthlessness of capitalism in action. It didn't matter that potentially hundreds of staff would be out of work, when big businesses suffer, the workers tend to suffer.
On 'Hope Downs', the magnificent debut album by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, you can sense real anger at the injustices meted out by big business types, especially on the sarcastic 'Exclusive Grave' ('the fat of the land is your right'). However, anyone who fears that such subject matter can only be conveyed in Springsteenesque solemnity (i.e. 'The River') will be intrigued to find that this album is one of the most musically thrilling (The blistering guitar solo that closes 'Exclusive Grave' is an agitated gem) and compelling releases in recent years.
RBCF are a Melbourne based five piece, three of whom share lead vocal and guitar duties. The sheer synergy and the manner in which the three lead roles wrap effortlessly around one another is mesmerizing.
Being Australian, their predominantly jangling guitar sounds have been frequently compared to several of their country's more celebrated names, primarily the Go-Betweens. Sonically they're probably closer to the vibrant Hoodoo Guru's, although the frantic intro to the poignant 'Bellarine' feels like an anxious relative of the Go-Betweens 'Was There Anything I Could Do?'
On the aforementioned 'Bellarine' , we meet one of the troubled characters that haunt this album, an estranged divorcee ('two years since I've seen my daughter'), lost and alone on the peninsula. On the single 'Mainland', singer Tom Russo, reflects on a holiday to Sicily where he observed Syrian refugees seeking asylum. The line 'We are just paper boats, Bobbing adrift afloat,' is one of the most woundingly powerful lyrics here.
The exhilarating single 'Talking Straight' is one of the albums finest pop moments (think early REM without the indecipherable mumblings), singer Joe White reflects on human loneliness, and includes the inquisitive line 'I wanna know where silence comes from, where space originates'.
Throughout 'Hope Downs' ten songs RBCF have woven a series of evocative stories together with the most exhilarating musical soundtrack. In doing so, they have created the most rewarding debut album of the year.
Rolling Blackouts Coastel Fever on video
photo: Warwick Baker