London-based quartet The Boxer Rebellion (named after a Chinese nationalist uprising of the early 20th Century don’t you know) seem to have steered well clear of the media frenzy that normally heralds the arrival of a debut album from an up and coming rock band. This is probably because they’re not easily pigeonholed and thus don’t fit into any particular musical trend or craze out there at the moment.
Musically, their closest cousins are probably The Cooper Temple Clause and Kasabian, although even this is perhaps misleading. Their songs display electro leanings and heavy bass lines like the aforementioned groups and American born singer Nathan Nicholson’s hostile vocals sound similar to that of Ben Gautrey or Tom Meighan.
In fact, on first listen, there isn’t an ’80s synth to be heard, nor are there any angular riffs (whatever they may be). They’re not grungy in a Nirvana sort of way, and they’re certainly not poppy in a Blur sort of way. So you get the feeling that they’ve been slightly overlooked due to this refusal to be categorised, and the fact that their sound is something fairly unique. Which is a shame, as Exits is a brilliant debut record that should be heard by all.
But then it’s not even brilliant in an obvious way – this is far from a collection of easily accessible, radio friendly pop songs with big hooks, it’s a slow burner of a record that takes a number of listens to fully appreciate. But once Exits gets under your skin, you’ll struggle to remove it from your CD player.
Opener Flight is a case in point – it’s a remarkably dark and brooding number, full of distorted guitars and subliminal electro beats that create a ‘wall of sound’ effect, if ever there was one. Nicholson’s raspy, tobacco drenched drawl dominates the track, and when he screams “we’re on fire!” he’s certainly not wrong. This is an intriguing opener that sets out the high standard for the rest of the record.
Recent single All You Do Is Talk follows immediately after, creating a mouth watering opening double bill. This is definitely the most accessible song on the album – Lasting for about three minutes, as good pop songs do, it builds up an epic, soaring and strangely beautiful chorus that should make a name for The Boxer Rebellion were it to have full commercial backing.
The frantic Watermelon is another highlight; here Nicholson’s paranoid vocals combat against a sinister and menacing guitar riff, and The New Heavy more than lives up to its name – sounding like Liam Gallagher on acid, it’s a juggernaut of a track that develops into an all out thrash by the end, with Nicholson seemingly laying out an ultimatum to critics – “if you want me, come and get me!” he shouts with more than a fair share of venom. But with songs of this quality, he should remain unscathed.
This is not to say the Boxer Rebellion don’t have their more sensitive side, they’re equally at home with the volume turned down a notch. The entrancing We Have This Place Surrounded and World Without End are incredibly atmospheric pieces of music that take you somewhere else for their duration, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the latter’s utterly enchanting piano breakdown.
What we’re left with is a flawless and thoroughly entertaining record, one that rewards the listener with every play. There isn’t a bad track on here (The cynic in me looked hard, but to no avail), every song comes out of the traps and offers something quite special. As a rebellion against your everyday chart fodder, the album is an unconditional and resounding success.