‘Ocean by Ocean’ is a transcendent record infused as much with darkness as it is light. There is brooding melancholy here that often translates into an emotional sucker punch. In ‘Let’s Disappear’, for example, Nathan sings about craving to hide away from, as he puts it, “everything that’s going on in the world”. ‘Redemption’ reels with the hard-won wisdom that can only come with tirelessly following your goals (“You say what a fortune to be given every dream you conceive”), while first single ‘Big Ideas’ is, says Nathan, concerns missed opportunities. “It’s about meeting someone special but at the wrong time in your life. You feel lucky to have met them but also, because of the bad timing, like you have the very kind of worse luck.”
The album’s opening track, ‘Weapon’, is deliciously ambiguous, a radio-friendly hit-in-waiting drenched in a chiming production evocative of the 1980s, but that reveals itself, on closer listening, to be haunting, and wholeheartedly sinister. “I believe I know you better than you know yourself,” Nathan sings. “You are a weapon/Destroying all I see.” And then there is ‘Pull Yourself Together’, so otherworldly and plangent it recalls nothing less than the Cocteau Twins. Sounding like it was recorded in a cathedral, it runs: “Pull yourself together/Take everything you need/Open up to open arms.”
It’s the most exquisite thing they have ever recorded. The album closes with another career highlight, ‘Let It Go’, not, mercifully, a cover of the tune from Disney’s Frozen, but a lament inspired by Nathan reading to his two-year-old son, and reminding himself of his place in the world. “I choose to feel happy,” he sings, “so why do I feel so sad?” If this is the sound of the existential angst of a man approaching midlife, it is rendered impeccably poetic. “I think I’m really bad at realising my lot in life sometimes,” Nathan says, ruefully. “I have to remind myself that, you know, my life is pretty amazing. I’m in a band I really believe in, and I’m proud to be a part of. I always was, and always will be.”
Music is transient, and bands come and they go. Rare are the ones that stay the course, rarer still those that get better over the years until quietly, astutely, they deliver their classic. The Boxer Rebellion are one of those bands, and ‘Ocean by Ocean’ is one of those records.