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The Boxer Rebellion - Promises (Album Review)

Friday, 26 April 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

Sharing their name with a rebellious uprising in China that first came into being in 1898, The Boxer Rebellion actually generate a sound far from anything their name suggests, instead creating highly polished and well produced radio friendly indie rock of an anthemic nature.

'Promises', to be released in the UK on 13th May, is the 4th studio album in the bands catalogue, following 2005’s debut 'Exits', 'Union' in 2009 and 'The Cold Still' in 2011, with 'Union' achieving top 5 status in the iTunes UK top 100 albums, initial sales being download only.  With such melodic sheen adorning so many highly impressive tracks from their first 3 offerings it is somewhat surprising that the band is still relatively unknown in mainstream circles.

Consisting of American singer Nathan Nicholson, Australian guitarist Todd Howe, plus bassist Adam Harrison and drummer Piers Hewitt representing the UK corner, the band represent the true meaning of the word indie, self-financing albums and gigs since being dropped by their label after the release of 'Exits'; even special tickets for the forthcoming live show in October at The Forum in London’s Kentish Town is the bands own doing.

Lead single 'Diamonds' opens the album, a serene synth-backed masterpiece containing a repetitive guitar riff with the synths reaching sweeping majestic heights as Nicholson’s vocals fit the song to perfection with his almost apologetic “I’m no good next to diamonds, when I’m too close they start to fade” lyrics lingering long after the finish; a brilliant track that reaches anthemic heights with shoegaze-meets-Verve guitar soundscapes generating spine tingling moments that overflow with emotion, deserving a much longer outro than the all too soon fading out affords.

'Fragile' follows on in a similar vein, with the first signs of Nicholson’s recognisable nasally, occasionally falsetto whine bursting on to the scene; this is an uplifting tune once again with a feel good tempo. The pounding drums and driving bass thunder the track along before a galloping tambourine and racing guitars take the track to more giddy, stadium filling heights once again, sounding a little like Temper Trap in the process; the track is afforded a slightly lengthier synth backed fade out this time around.

A faster tempo brings 'Always' into the fray as the band move towards territory occupied by Keane - albeit missing a piano, replaced instead by keyboards once again backing another soaring chorus. In 2009, 'Union' had announced its arrival in much similar fashion, with the first 3 tracks being of such a high standard that ultimately the remainder of the album failed to match; with that in mind, a fuzzy wall of guitars and whining repetitive plea of the song title 'Take Me Back' comes in at track 4, manifesting into another superb guitar and synth wall of euphoric noise to postpone any similar judgements.

The pace slows down for 'Low', a straightforward chorus of “So don’t be loved” repeating as if to stave off emotional heartbreak before it can happen; this is a much gentler, heart-warming number despite the subject matter but the musical interlude with guitar solo adds another dimension to a gradual build up of grandeur, providing the album with another single possibility. 'Keep Moving' continues the trend which could at this rate be approaching something resembling a greatest hits package rather than a mere studio album, the pummelling drum rolls and keyboards with more racing guitars sounding like a U2 epic as the formula becomes incessant.

Pounding Bohemian like drums drive the (rather short at under 3 minutes) 'New York' after a quiet beginning as a break in the style finally surfaces, although another soaring chorus attempts to do otherwise. 'Safe House' proves that the change was only temporary, with another anthem looming into view, recalling at times another stadium filling piano driven band (minus the piano), Coldplay. 

Slow ballad 'You Belong To Me' is the first track that completely breaks free from the formula, a softly sung number that actually includes piano this time, kept ticking along by a gentle drum beat and e-bow sounding guitars creating atmosphere; 'Dream' proves that this isn’t just a one-off, starting a little like Interpol before sadly declaring that “dream is all you ever do…so no one can get through” via a sweeping chorus. The song builds into a crescendo of noise, reaching an epic climax of “Lord we’ve got to celebrate” as the song takes on a 'With or Without You' structure, if not actually reaching the same kind of heights as the legendary U2 offering.

The title track is the last song on the album – unsurprisingly this moulds into another slow building anthem after a gentle single guitar accompaniment begins the track, with a chorus of “and we can make promises, forget the way we live” elevating the track to monumental heights once again.

The constant elation that anthemic songs generate is such that at times a break is very important and there is not much of that here, in fact there are only the 2 tracks that completely break from this routine and as they stand side by side this only offers brief respite from the onslaught. However, the quality of the songs on an individual basis is continually impressive - at times reaching perfection - and ultimately it is only the track order that could prevent this highly satisfying ear candy from taking its deserved place in the album of the year accolades come the end of 2013.

'Promises' is released via Absentee Recordings on Monday 13th May 2013. The Boxer Rebellion perform in London in October.

The Boxer Rebellion UK Tour Dates are as follows

Fri October 11th 2013 - The Forum, London

Click Here to Compare & Buy The Boxer Rebellion Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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