It was about time Sub Pop looked outside Pacific Northwest to re-establish itself as a point-of-reference label after a few years of dwindling reputation. Hope Downs is the full-length debut by none other than a Melbourne band – possibly the most ‘international-sounding’ band that country has produced in recent years. It does state its roots in AU/NZ jangle-pop and Dunedin sound (you have probably already heard ‘Bellarine’ guitars in a Bats or Go-Betweens track, and so on), but it does so with a clear “here and now” attitude, in terms of mood, sound, style and arrangement.
The album comes out of your headphones as fresh and immediate as they come with, impressively, the self-confidence of established acts. In terms of soundscape, probably due to the steadiness of the rhythm section and, sometimes, to the vocal delivery, Hope Downs might sound as a lighter, bumpy version of The War On Drugs (‘Sister’s Jeans’, ‘How Long’), also because of the more classic and prolonged, almost solo-like guitar riffs. There also some dreamy, surfy numbers like ‘Cappuccino City’, that sound like a garage version of Real Estate.
This ‘garage’ attitude of the band glues the album together (‘Exclusive Grave’ is a good example) and is probably also what makes Hope Downs so likeable, if more generic – and thus it is undeniably a great but midstream product. What matters is songwriting, which is spotless. Tracks probably lack truly memorable refrains (except that ‘You’re not talking straight’ in ‘Talking Straight’), because the construction of songs favours texture and band dynamic (remember that this is a 5-piece combo, with three guitars). All together, there is reason to think of Rolling Blackouts C.F. as a key band of years to come, and possibly a new, headlining name.
Words: Lorenzo Righetto