Trailblazers of the modern music industry paradigms for more than a decade - unsigned, self releasing, independently touring - The Boxer Rebellion have managed to beat the odds and become a cult band in the Nada Surf mould. Big enough to sustain themselves but not to worry about where it might all go wrong, the multinational quartet have continued to please themselves: their biggest selling and best album to date - 2011's The Cold Still - was highly finessed, emoting adult rock at its peak, singer Nathan Nicholson wringing every shred of depth and authenticity possible from such grown up orientated material.
It's clear that musically then we're in the territory of the massively unhip, a disabused hinterland where few mainstream artists are happy to be located in. The truth though is that not only do Nicholson and co. sound happy there, they're thriving, a rude health which Ocean By Ocean proves and a status which its predecessor Promises cast little doubt over either.
There must be an obvious temptation here to break what doesn't need fixing, what with many bands trotting out endlessly formulaic indie landfill, or going full on beards-and-sandals just to cop a break. To their credit - or naivety - on this their fifth album the band have dispensed with most of The Cold Still's introspection, shooting instead very much for the pop jugular.
Long term fans will be relieved to know this doesn't involve opting for autotune-drowned EDM, but alternatively by serving up a batch of songs which mine the seam somewhere between Coldplay at their least awkward and the grandiose falsettoed brio of eighties synth quiffs A-Ha. Sharp intake of breath? Certainly. Does it work? For the most part, definitely.
One of Nicholson's great strengths is that he could croon a shopping list and make it sound like a sonnet: drowned in reverb here, the love of Big Ideas he feels is so sincere the listener may want to dab an eye. Complete with a chiming guitar riff sounding not unlike The Edge's on I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, there's obviously a spoonful of having to be taken at face value, but it's proof that this time round the writer won't die wandering.
This hearts and minds operation opens with Weapon, an undulating, hook laden dimph of sugar that sets both tone and tempo. Nicholson's voice quavers up in the high ranges: massive, point breaking washes and wafer thin guitars give the effect of ripples on a warmly inviting pool. This come, enter vibe is present throughout, as Let's Disappears strident invitation to all seems to be heading for a place where the anguish of any past can be extinguished. It is odd that this dream pop, so often now created on devices no bigger than a credit card, can be cut to such a pristine edge by of all those retro things, an actual band, but on the likes of Firework and The Fog I Was Lost In it's slightness and indelible fuzz are cast as far as the long, glassy horizons.
To an extent it's easy to see how such a conflation of styles could be viewed as taking the easy road, an exercise in insincerity and hollowness. The band themselves have described it's lack of conditionality by saying "there's definitely a lot of positivity and optimism wrapped up in this album" and truly You Can Love Me Too's epic balladry - dry ice keys, requiem drums, reconciliation in every line - is the song Brandon Flowers was too shy to write. This same Everyman spirit applies to closer Let It Go - Nicholson trims "I choose to be happy" - whilst his colleagues struggle to keep the lid on a song which pulses with a simple warmth.
Perhaps this is the benefit of being your own cottage industry; having no suits to satisfy reduces the need to compromise to vanishing point. The Boxer Rebellion have been in an elliptical orbit around both cool and success for fifteen years - this time, those worlds might just collide.
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