When I fell for Hope Downs, the debut full-length from Australian band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, it was because I heard the college radio of my own personal era in the earnest, tuneful stylings. It wasn’t true retro, reliant on nostalgia in place of originality. Instead, the band drew on predecessors but placed themselves firmly in the now on the out-of-the-mainstream rock continuum of college to modern to alternative to indie. That I heard the bygone jangle and wistfulness of the late–nineteen-eighties in the album’s skillful songs made the album mighty difficult to resist.
For the band’s follow-up, Sideways to New Italy, it feels to me like they move ahead a few year with their baseline influences, as if embarking on the second leg in of a time travel tour of what dudes with guitars and an aw-shucks eschewing of pop slickness can come up with. “Falling Thunder” is like a peppier Death Cab for Cutie, and “The Cool Change” reminds me of something Wilco might have put on a mythical record between Being There and Summerteeth. “The Only One” has the easy charm of drifty, dreamy Britpop bands of roughly the same era, the lads who listened to the Go-Betweens and the Housemartins in their teenage bedrooms and thought they could give it a go, too, but landed on the endearingly basic version of the same music.
If Sideways to New Italy doesn’t offer quite the same surge of excitement as its predecessor, it’s still clearly the product of a smart, sharp band. “Cars in Space” has a racing energy to it, and “Cameo” is full to bursting. Al the elements come together in songs that are chunky and satisfying. For obvious reason, there’s a particular metaphor that’s primarily applied to flatly enjoyable movies that aren’t particularly demanding. But I think it’s fair to say that Sideways to New Italy is a popcorn album.