Album Review: The Cold Still by The Boxer Rebellion
Fairly Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 70 Based on rating 7/10
The Boxer Rebellion's third album starts off on a decidedly moody note, even for them, thanks to the combination of slow, heavy drumming, some equally portentous piano, and Nathan Nicholson's opening line of "Maybe there's just no use. " But "No Harm" is the kind of dark-shaded song that boils down to how well it works in execution, and the band's ear for the forlornly anthemic continues to serve them well, with the slow, distant swell of strings and Nicholson's overdubbed falsettos turning the song into a beautiful, steady burn. Moments of band interplay showcase their collective ear for the nervously romantic-sounding post-punk that's helped inspire the group's sound: there's the instrumental break on "Cause for Alarm" where Nicholson and Todd Howe's guitars have a quick interwoven tension, while "The Runner," perhaps the album's most full-on rocker, is as charging and brawling as anyone who loved groups like the Chameleons and Puressence could want.
We're only 30 seconds into The Cold Still and Nathan Nicholson is suggesting that "Maybe there's no use, the way it was before." It doesn't read like an epitaph, but more a statement of his and The Boxer Rebellion's quest for a clean slate, new beginnings and perhaps more importantly mainstream recognition. Without dwelling too much on the past, it would be fair to say that The Boxer Rebellion are one of the unluckiest bands in living memory. Indeed, one wonders if some evil charlatan was actually placing unavoidable ladders on every street corner within walking distance while leaving mirrors under the front and back wheels of each member's cars should they decide to opt for an alternative means of transportation.
A superb slice of miserablism The Boxer Rebellion faithfully improve on their original methods with changes of tone, rhythm and instrumentation third time round. As pianos sink in and out of the 10 tracks, vocalist Nathan Nicholson offers a superb slice of miserablism while maintaining interest throughout the subtle shadings of grey on the album. ‘Cause For Alarm’ echoes Elbow, while ‘Doubt’ borders on ‘OK Computer’-era Radiohead.
Although hardly a household name, this London-based quartet made history of sorts when their last album, Union, became the first self-released album to break into the US top 100 on digital sales alone. Since then, they've starred as themselves in Hollywood film Going the Distance and secured the services of Kings of Leon producer, Ethan Johns. They've achieved all this on the back of their one-size-fits-all epic rock, somewhere between Radiohead, Elbow and the National.
New Musical Express (NME) - 60 Based on rating 3/5
When [a]The Boxer Rebellion[/a] sleep, they probably dream of the kind of slow-burn breakthrough [a]The National[/a] had with [b]‘High Violet’[/b]. They have the relentless persistence needed to stick to the wall long enough (this is their third self-released album), but despite their striving for the grandiose (Kings producer Ethan Johns provides the country-ish bluster) and breaks (a spot in rom-com Going The Distance for last album [b]‘Union’[/b]), there’s still that dark sparkle missing. The [a]Arcade Fire[/a]-fuelled chug of [b]‘Organ Song’[/b] and the [a]Fleet Foxes[/a]-y [b]‘Locked In The Basement’[/b] are cosy enough, but despite their constant straining for emotiveness the tone is more dreary than teary.
I’ll be honest: I’ve always been a tad skeptical about the Boxer Rebellion. The bands seems to thrive on those psychic music websites that mysteriously decree because you love ‘X’ you must also like ‘Y’. On further investigation, the Boxer Rebellion merely offered itself as a ‘School Musical’ version of the ‘Bigger Boys’ (U2, Radiohead, REM, etc).