Such is the compression of existence that less than two decades later it’s almost impossible to imagine life in the early part of this century; stalked by ourselves, the blistered modern-day parabola of our always-on existence leaves no semblance of the moments when every thought and tiny emotional reverse wasn’t mapped in front of strangers.
The Boxer Rebellion frontman Nathan Nicholson moved to London from Tennessee in this pre-history following his mother’s sudden death, a pretence for rebirth and a mechanism of escape which, like many other situations men refuse to confront, he’s only recently acknowledged coming to terms with.
In the subsequent years whilst the world has spun around them the quartet he formed in response have created five albums, a dignified arc peaked by their heavily Radiohead-influenced debut Exits, the delicate incisions of bestselling effort The Cold Still to their last, 2016’s tune-friendly episode Ocean by Ocean.
Throughout, they’ve seemed like a band marooned in Hopper’s Nighthawks, perpetually destined to be alone in the hours most people shun. If Ocean By Ocean felt like it was at least prepared to acknowledge the world of contemporary music outside, calling the first single from your next record What The F**k is either an act of brash attention seeking or someone inviting you down their rabbit hole.
Typically honest but happy to let the listener add it all up, it’s an intensely simmering brew of indignation, disbelief and fear, the villain our own careless march in time along the closed-minded road to nowhere.
Ghost Alive is superficially an acoustic record, not so much an abandonment of the principles which have, to a greater or lesser degree, dominated the band’s horizons but a rejection of anything that could distract, the object to bring you as close to the mirror as possible. Part way through its creation Nicholson’s father died, making it something of an unconscious requiem, although it seems that the deceased’s influence is more as a confidant than the subject of a glad-ragged wake.
That weight, and simply avoiding the trite precepts of unplugging, is a draining enough task alone but somehow elevated by it, Ghost Alive is full of sensual, intimate experiences such as taken in by River, places strung out with hope and uncertainty, failed dreams and a history lost to time. There are also shoulders to cry on; Love Yourself’s message to the fractured ID of masculinity an unconditional offer, Here I Am equally a proclamation as brittle and passionate as anything Nicholson has ever committed the band to.
This refusal to dwell in a meta which is one of global toxicity sets things so markedly apart; in the crevices and joyous humanity we now bury deep, the voices and sounds it brings are like poems from another time, naïve, sweet, unexplored treaties as holy as the first breath shared between two innocent lovers. Their call is answered on Don’t Ever Stop – an essay on faith as a human instrument rather than deified contrivance, whilst Lost Cause proves that intimacy has a thousand other dimensions more than just acting as a confessional.
It’s a difficult place to make peace with, this twenty-first century planet. On Ghost Alive, The Boxer Rebellion offer no answers but look more closely into the connections between us, raw and sometimes forgotten.
Those who’ve always sought out their music for this uniquely analogue perspective should be thrilled; this more than any other in their career is the record you’ve always waited for.