Audio Mixer: Billy Bush.
Recording information: Red Razor Sounds, Los Angeles, California, USA; Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, California, USA; The Exit Room, London, England.
Boxer Rebellion lead singer Nathan Nicholson is a reflective, deeply emotional songwriter who can't quite seem to hold on to his happiness even when there's not much to be sad about. At least, that's the overwhelming impression he leaves you with on Boxer Rebellion's mature fifth studio album, 2016's Ocean by Ocean. The follow-up to the band's 2013 effort, the emotionally resonant Promises, Ocean by Ocean is arguably Boxer Rebellion's most introspective and measured album to date -- this, from a band that has built a career on making deeply heartfelt, '80s-style post-punk anthems about loneliness, sadness, and betrayal. However, on past albums Boxer Rebellion would balance their softer, more languid tracks with a bit of rock edge; think the crackling, bass-heavy urgency of 2011's "Step Out of the Car." On Ocean by Ocean, they've abandoned any semblance of plug-and-play snarl for a sustained '80s adult-contempo-meets-dream-pop sophistication that feels equal parts Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and Peter Gabriel. Perhaps some of this is due to the addition of guitarist Andrew Smith, who replaced original guitarist Todd Howe in 2014. His nuanced approach, full of sparkling arpeggiations and impressionistic moans, brings to mind a deft mix of U2's The Edge and Durutti Column's Vini Reilly. Cuts like "Weapon," "Pull Yourself Together," and "The Fog I Was Lost In" envelope you in a womb of shimmering guitars, hymn-like synths, and world music percussion. Thankfully, they are also hummable, well-crafted songs that showcase Nicholson's emotive tenor croon. Of course, his emotions tend to run toward the melancholy, and in that way he is also unerring on Ocean by Ocean. On "Let It Go," he sings "You said you have a choice to feel happy or sad/I choose to be happy, so why do I feel so bad?" Purportedly, the song (unrelated to the song from Disney's Frozen) was inspired from Nicholson reading to his young child and contemplating the dichotomy of having everything you could want and still feeling sad. It's a sentiment that colors even the most buoyant of tracks on the album, and often leaves the listener at arm's length from the emotional core of a song. Ultimately, Ocean by Ocean emerges on the horizon like a desert caravan, backlit in the fading sunlight. It slowly ambles toward you, threatening to crush you in the drama of its march, only to sidestep you at the last minute as it glides by, leaving you to marvel at its baroque construction. ~ Matt Collar