Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s 2016 debut Talk Tight delivered indie pop tunes that, despite their engaging, surf-pop brightness, came off as incomplete; a bit too bland. The French Press suffers from none of that blandness. Apart from the considerable jump in recording quality, Rolling Blackouts’ latest EP is less impulsive than its predecessor.
“French Press,” the first track on the record, is perhaps its most passive. A watery guitar meanders over a simple indie rock backing that allows the track to build upon the melodic theme while varying enough to keep us entertained. We blend the tempo of ‘80s pop with the slick disposition of early-2010s indie.
The French Press, while placing less of an emphasis on rock as its predecessor, maintains the danceable grooves that made the band’s first record so appealing. And to our surprise, most of the record is eerily familiar. There’s no plagiarism going on, it’s just that Rolling Blackouts constantly riff on ‘80s-flavoured indie-pop tropes.
Bass playing is more apparent in tracks like “Julie’s Place,” which manages to offset a vaguely melancholic vocal performance by driving the tempo up. Simple but well-placed guitar licks cement the track’s cheer. A lot of the appeal is due in part to the band’s multiple guitarist-singers, which afford them the opportunity to trade sweet little licks back and forth between each other, all over an already-solid backdrop. (One whose appeal has already been cemented by a whole slew of early-2000s indie pop bands.)
Surprisingly, it’s Rolling Blackouts’ restraint, especially while throwing guitar licks back and forth between each other, that holds the record together. Multiple instruments seem to just ride the same wave together. If a guitar takes centre stage, the others fall back and supply rhythm. But always there are at least two different guitars throwing subtle licks back and forth.
Faster-paced tracks like “Colours Run” use this to their benefit, adding an acoustic guitar to the mix. As if to drive the point home about collaboration, “Colours Run” also benefits immensely from the vocals, which blend into harmonies on the chorus, and seamlessly let a single voice ring out through the verses. There’s really no other band I’ve seen that’s managed to synthesize its sound so well in such a short timespan. On The French Press, it’s all salt-stained boardwalks and half-empty shores. (The element of melancholy never does seem to be fully exorcised from the record, even though the same can be said for its odd, sometimes almost-out-of-place cheer.)
“Fountain of Good Fortune” is the only track that’s straight indie pop. But oh man. More of a ballad than anything else, “Fountain” retains the multiple melodies of the tracks that came before it and uses them to end the record with just as much playfulness, but none of the energy. We’re walking home here.
If The French Press is any indication, more really is merrier. What could have been a messy, repetitive project, turned into one of the most cleanly-cut, well-defined indie pop records to come out this year.