The Boxer Rebellion– American Nathan Nicholson (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Australian Todd Howe (lead guitar), and Englishmen Adam Harrison (bass guitar), and Piers Hewitt (drums) – formed in 2001, have had limited success. Encouragingly they have supported Editors, Gary Numan and Lenny Kravitz, and were due to tour with The Killers, and their music has been used in TV and film, including Grey’s Anatomy and 2010 romantic comedy Going the Distance. Their distinctive sound and beautifully atmospheric tracks have made them well-known within the music industry but even with the glowing reviews they have yet to achieve mainstream fame.
The Cold Still is their third studio album and may secure The Boxer Rebellion’s status as an established band. They fall into the alternative rock category and their sound is a mix of the immense stormy rock of Editors and more eclectic folk influence that is more prominent in this album than in the rawer Exits (2004) and Union (2009).
Opening track ‘No Harm’ is tender, somehow instantly familiar and skilfully arranged, with flowing strings adding depth to the drums, piano and Nicholson’s rich vocals; a very promising start. First single ‘Step Out Of The Car’ follows, picking up the tempo for a polished version of a style more reminiscent of the band’s early music. ‘Caught By The Light’ is a swaying, slowly effective track, Nicholson’s delicate vocals turn the lyrics into a subtle, refined sound, not unlike Mumford and Son’s slower music. ‘Organ Song’ is another highlight, arena style vastness that would make a great second single (there is an organ, but it’s not excessive.) ‘Memo’ is next, a rockier, more guitar-heavy track.
Nicholson’s flexible, soaring voice is more remarkable in The Cold Still than in their earlier work- this is a virtuoso performance. ‘Doubt’ is a display of understated brilliance on every level, a combination of soulful rock and thought-provoking lyrics- “Lanterns in view, warm breath is thin stems of life, in the cold, in the cold still night, careless as any hidden spark, spreads quickly to the darkest places”.
The weaknesses of this album are few, the main one in my opinion is that the up-tempo tracks are outshined by the captivating, ballad-like works of art such as ‘No Harm’ and ‘Doubt’, but they’re still great efforts. It’s the sort of music that could easily be Mercury nominated- alternative rock with a difference that the likes of Elbow, Villagers, I Am Kloot and Doves also excel at.
I love the album art of The Cold Still and of the previous albums as well, simple, beautifully made and evocative, it reflects the band and their music perfectly. This is my favourite Boxer Rebellion album by far- it’s more purposeful, deeper and has the potential to propel the band into greater, stadium-filling success. It feels as if the band has pushed themselves that bit further and created a mature, cinematic sound that should gain them more radio plays and bigger crowds for their upcoming tour.
So will The Cold Still bring The Boxer Rebellion greater success and a wider audience? I hope so, it would be completely justified.
Good: The band has upped their game, Nicholson’s voice sounds better than ever, the songs are improved, and the production is flawless.
Bad: Lack of originality on certain tracks.