Editor’s band of the year – The Boxer Rebellion.
[sic] faves The Boxer Rebellion are on the road once again. Are they the hardest working act around? Maybe. The best band in the world? Probably. Yours truly’s musical salvation? Certainly.
But why? What is it that gives them that edge? For me it has to do with authenticity. The Boxers have it whilst few other bands measure up in this respect. Indeed in these difficult times of re-issues, manufactured pap and profit-driven decision making it is harder still to find music with a real x-factor. Yet, in The Boxer Rebellion we have a band who were prepared to risk everything to bring us their truth – a band who overcame the odds on so many occasions and also on so many levels. Nathans near-death experience is already well-documented as is the bands bravery to continue after first label, Poptones collapsed, barely a week after their debut was released.
They are survivors. More than that they are a success (The self-financed Union was No 4 in the iTunes album chart after five days) But it goes further than that and much much deeper. Their music, a perfect melange of chiming melodies, Radiohead anxieties and post-punk intensity, delivers every time. The debut album Exits was incendiary, live favourite ‘Watermelon’ providing an early insight into the passion and rage of the band. Other tracks, like the heart wrenching ‘Absentee’, betrayed their subtleties.
Given the bands history there was no way that follow-up Union could match Exits and yet it surpassed its predecessor with unashamed anthems, intricate dynamics and a heightened vocal performance. I was out of the country when the physical Union was released. So to hear a song like ‘Broken Glass’ on my return was a profoundly moving experience. A grown man reduced to tears in a Heathrow record store. They can do that to you…. with a bonus track. That says everything about The Boxer Rebellion.
2011 has been a great year for our Boxers. They’ve been in a major motion picture (Going The Distance), packed out one of my favourite venues (Shepherds Bush Empire) and appeared on Letterman. But the year will probably be best remembered for the release of their third album, The Cold Still . The Boxer Rebellion now have their own record label, Absentee Recordings , and it was always going to be interesting to see what direction they would take. Would they try to follow Union in much the same way that Union built upon certain aspects of Exits ? Would they glide inexorably towards arena rock? Or would they fool us all? In many ways they’ve managed the latter. The Cold Still is a light, reflective record with a naturalistic feel that concert regulars will certainly identify with. Rather than building upon its predecessors, The Cold Still is adding to The Boxer Rebellion canon. ‘No Harm’ is the best opener of any of their albums by far, a beautiful lament that wouldn’t be out of place on David Gray’s best-selling White Ladder .
Another area where The Cold Still excels is its album tracks – those, oft-forgettable songs that fit in-between the singles and other cornerstone pieces. Most groups deal in filler. The Boxer Rebellion blow us away with wonders such as ‘Cause For Alarm’ and ‘Caught By The Light’. This makes The Cold Still a playlisters dream. But wither the anthems, I hear you cry? I know some old-school Boxer fans have been left unsatisfied by the new record. This I think has a lot to do with expectation and very little to do with execution. If a group keeps banging out ostensibly the same album every time (stand up Echo And The Bunnymen , Placebo etc) diminishing returns soon kick in. Give me a Radiohead or a Catherine Wheel every time – bands not afraid to change style, test themselves and move the needle. The Cold Still is a wonderful addition to the whole Rebellion portfolio. It shows the power of restraint in a way only The Boxer Rebellion could. Why? Because the act of holding back is most thrilling when there is real power behind it. Those who crave anthems need only reach for the previous albums. Nobody is stopping us. Whack on ‘Forces’ at full blast. Why not! But for me, what The Cold Still has done far more than any Union 2 could ever have done, is made me hunger for the next album.
The Boxer Rebellion are much younger than me and they frown when I compare them to the likes of The Chameleons and The Sound . They just don’t know those bands. They should. Everyone should. But the industry doesn’t work that way as well know all too well. It’s an ugly place that the band exists outside of and almost in spite of. The Boxer Rebellion have no label to answer to and no paymaster controlling them. They are free to make the music that they want to make. Lucky us. Perhaps some of the ill-fortune that has befallen them in the past might turn out to be for the best after all.
So when they pass though your hometown, as they are want to do this relentless foursome, SEE them. Stay at home only if you have no taste and no feelings whatsoever. I cannot recommend them highly enough.