It’s been a while since I last wrote Saturday Morning Tuneage, but (perhaps along with my presence on this web site) it’s something I’ve been hoping to resurrect. A spate of new music purchases this past week reminded me just how much I enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings with my laptop and my favorite headphones – so (at least this week) I’m setting aside some tuneage time.
Maybe (probably?) it’s just me, but it seems like the majority of performers that appear in movies – while usually musicians in real life – are merely playing additional characters. So I suppose it was entirely natural for me to think that The Boxer Rebellion wasn’t a real band when one of the main characters in the rom-com Going the Distance dropped the group’s name. But, much to my surprise, the indie-rock group popped up on the set list of my friend Andy’s long-running Internet radio show! A quick Amazon search revealed they’ve actually released three albums, the oldest of which dates back to 2005. It only took a few previews to convince me to pick up all three…
Exits (2005) – Amazon, eMusic
I started my chronological tour of The Boxer Rebellion with Exits. Frontman Nathan Nicholson doesn’t waste any time before introducing us to his range – he gives equal time to quiet, subdued lyrics and urgent, almost-imploring vocals in the album’s opening tracks. The occasional distortion seems well-placed, and has a nice analog quality to it – you can almost see the board’s VU meters peaking into the red in Nicholson’s voice. While hints of Coldplay come through occasionally, the far more-indie sound of the instrumentals was a nice differentiator.
My first run through Exits – as with the other two albums – played through my office open-air as I wrote various bits of software. It was great coding music inasmuch as it maintained a good pace and an urgent tone – but no particular track stood out enough from the background for me to stop and take note of it. If I were to queue up the album on a different day, I can’t pin down any one that I’d jump to – all were good, but none were catchy enough to stand out. One possible exception was the atypically-melodic “Never Knowing How Or Why”.
Union (2009) – Amazon, eMusic
I started to notice patterns as I moved on from Exits to Union. The four years of (presumable) work and maturation that preceded Rebellion’s sophomore effort showed immediately, but the band certainly tipped their hats to their first release: come out the gate with a strong beat and prominent vocals to get the listener’s attention, make everything flow with nice seamless transitions, and offer a stylistic variety that (quite justifiably) shows off your musical versatility.
Unlike Exits, however, the songs on this album had contrast. When a new one came on, I noticed. I noticed the acoustic subtlety of “Soviets”. I noticed the head-nodding, foot-tapping magnetism of “Spitting Fire”. And I noticed the bits I’d go back to the next time Union ends up in front of me.
The Cold Still (2011) – Amazon, eMusic
After listening through five years of music-making in my first two hours with The Boxer Rebellion, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect when I dove into their most-recent release. Of course, as most assumptions go, I was wrong. Right out the gate with “No Harm”, the band made it clear they intend to be taken seriously. The indie-sounding guitar tracks are pushed farther into the album, and they wait to turn up the catchy-dial. This was the point where I stopped my work and took notice.
In The Cold Still, the lyrics turn more introspective and dark – but in light of their accompaniment remain encouraging-sounding. More than just offering song-to-song contrast, the band now juxtaposes sounds with emotions, and explores the complexities that take them beyond the typical indie sound – they achieve a phenomenon I’ve wanted to explore more: Some of the songs enter that personal canon of music that seems unfathomable not to have been written. For a perfect example of all-of-the-above, listen to “Organ Song” with your eyes closed. It makes you want to get up and run. Not from anything, or to anywhere. Just run.
If you couldn’t tell from the above, I’m glad The Boxer Rebellion is a real band. They’ll certainly be regularly appearing in my playlists from now on, and I hope they keep up the good work in their releases. In the mean time, do pick those releases up – if you have any sort of affinity for indie rock, you’ll be glad you did.