Subscribers to the theory that the big, bad old music industry exists to hold us captive to their view of what's what are plentiful, and a look at the charts says that they've probably got a point. It's a lovely conspiracy theory, but now and then a few artists emerge to debunk it, proving that life outside the machine can still provide a living, creative fulfillment and - just occasionally - great music.
If ever an act could claim to epitomise this state of balance and perfection, The Boxer Rebellion would surely be it. Without a label since Alan McGee's Poptones went belly up a fortnight after the release of their debut album Exits in 2005, the London based four piece have sustained themselves both live and on record in a way almost unheard of prior to the download era, to the extent that The Cold Still's predecessor - 2009's Union - was held off the top slot in the iTunes alternative rock charts only by Kings of Leon.
Score one for the man against the suits then, but that's a sideshow; we can happily report that The Cold Still is not only a record of great depth and poise, but refreshingly it also refuses to compromise by using empty props or the stuff of passing fads. It's a stance that subtly underlines the belief that the The Boxer Rebellion are bona fide talents in their own right, an outfit who clearly understand that their product doesn't need flashy global marketing to convince us of its merits.
Perhaps the biggest clue as to the derivation of the band's sound - a kind of organic, bombast free rootsy stadium folk-rock (Sorry) - is in the nature of their lineup, with American vocalist Nathan Nicholson being joined by Australian guitarist Todd Howe and Englishmen Adam Harrison and Piers Hewitt. The result is a trans-Atlantic composite, borrowing equally from the musical wells of both continents. Nicholson's voice wavers between pristine falsetto and gravely, careworn bluesman throughout, the latter giving the solemnity of opener No Harm and the upliftingly epic light/darkness of Both Sides Are Even parallels in the very best moments imagined by The National.
Here undeniably are songwriters on a winning streak, demonstrated by listening to Exits signature effort Watermelon, and then by measuring the progress made since then. Back in 2011, Organ Song stomps pastorally like the best Cajun knees up you never went to, whilst despite its post-punk roots, Memo ricochets into understated guitar heroics and comes armed with a frown-lifting chorus from the fringes of pop.
This soundtrack for a post-modern ceilidh can be galvanising, but The Cold Still is at its best when waltzing slowly, pirouetting gently around the ethereal tones of Caught By The Light and it's cousin, the gradually building closer Doubt. Neither are austere, but they sum up The Boxer Rebellion's strengths succinctly; power, and control. The machine's loss is our gain.