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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

(Soundbite of song "Move On")

COHEN: Sometimes having the right friend in the right place can really pay off. Tennessee native Nathan Nicholson found that out recently. He's the front man of the British band the Boxer Rebellion. Last month, his band got a big boost courtesy of a fan who just happens to work for a little music outfit you might have heard of. Journalist Christian Bordal spoke with Nicholson about their new album. It's called "Union."

(Soundbite of song "Move On")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Don't stop talking...

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: Last month, eyebrows were raised when the iTunes free single of the week was by an unsigned and largely unknown British band called The Boxer Rebellion. The band couldn't even afford to print CD copies of their second full-length album, but they had a fan at the iTunes Music Department, and he offered to have them release the album straight to iTunes and to give them a week of the much-coveted front-page coverage.

Mr. NATHAN NICHOLSON (Vocals, Guitar, The Boxer Rebellion): It's just an offer you can't refuse.

BORDAL: That's Nathan Nicholson, the band's lead singer.

Mr. NICHOLSON: We had this album, kind of, just sitting there. It'd been finished. We just wanted to release it. I mean, for awhile, we're thinking about, should we just put it up, you know, for free or - you know, as a last-ditch attempt? But this kind of came along just at the right time.

(Soundbite of song "Move On")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Rip up the proof Rip up the proof Rip up the proof Rip up the proof Before the damage is done Damage is done Damage is done Damage is done. Judgment...

BORDAL: The impact of the iTunes promotion was instantaneous. The band went top five in the iTunes album charts in the U.S. and UK, briefly outselling bands like Coldplay and My Morning Jacket. They even blinked briefly onto the U.S. Billboard Top 100 albums chart.

(Soundbite of song "Flashing Red Light Means Go")

Mr. NICHOLSON: Yeah, we went No. 82, which I didn't think we had a hope in hell, but we did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NICHOLSON: And it's just great, being from the States and never being able to play there, to be able to do something like that really meant a lot. And yeah, it was a good week.

(Soundbite of song "Flashing Red Light Means Go")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) What's the use in my advice That you just turn down? Swaying to a serenade...

BORDAL: The Boxer Rebellion first got together in London in 2001, while Nathan was there studying abroad. The band was soon signed to Poptones Records, which had also signed bands like Oasis and the Super Furry Animals and My Bloody Valentine. In 2005, Poptones and Mercury Records released the excellent "Exits," the band's first full-length CD. Unfortunately, that very same week, Poptones folded. So, despite strong critical reviews, an album that looked like it might make some big waves sank with barely a ripple.

(Soundbite of song)

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Turn on your (unintelligible). Turn on (unintelligible)...

BORDAL: Band's new album is called "Union." And when I asked Nathan to pick out a track that he feels particularly proud of, he selects "Soviets."

(Soundbite of song "Soviets")

Mr. NICHOLSON: It's quite a hopeful song. I think the main lyric at the beginning is heading westward towards the sun.

(Soundbite of song "Soviets")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Heading westwards towards the sun...

Mr. NICHOLSON: And I don't know if anyone else will get this, but it's kind of, you know, when all else fails, you can always, you know, go somewhere else and start anew.

(Soundbite of song "Soviets")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Heading westwards toward the sun Situations from the last come undone. We were lost from the start. We won't be here when the rest falls apart Oh, I can tell your words, so well...

BORDAL: It can be refreshing to talk to a young artist that hasn't done dozens of interviews and refined his bio-patter. Nathan was almost shamefaced when talking about his own abilities as a lyricist.

Mr. NICHOLSON: I don't usually try to write too specific. I mean, I'd love to be Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, but I'm kind of a bit more ambiguous.

BORDAL: The standout track from "Union" and the single iTunes put on its homepage is called "Evacuate."

(Soundbite of song "Evacuate")

The BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) I don't wanna say, If it goes your way. And I don't wanna try. You don't have to lie....

Mr. NICHOLSON: Well, I kind of wish we did more heavier, like, songs like that, more rock-'n'-roll songs. We don't do any of them and that's because I think they're a lot harder for us to write.

BORDAL: I think Nathan is exactly right. The song "Evacuate" showcases what the band does best and did more of on its first album, "Exits." This record is a little softer, more pop, more falsetto and acoustic guitar, more approachable. It'll appeal to Coldplay fans. But to me, their stronger work is the harsher, harder-driving stuff that will appeal to fans of amped-up Radiohead, complex dissonance, driven forward by the fantastic, pounding grooves of drummer Piers Hewitt and Nathan's beautifully understated melodic hooks.

(Soundbite of song "Evacuate")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) Wait, When there's nothing left to waste On a promise I can make...

BORDAL: You may not be able to buy their CDs at Wal-Mart, but check them out online because The Boxer Rebellion is one obscure band that's well worth getting to know. For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

COHEN: The Boxer Rebellion's latest album is called "Union," and it's available now on iTunes. You can also hear a couple of tracks at our Web site, nprmusic.org. Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of song "Evacuate")

THE BOXER REBELLION: (Singing) And I don't wanna try. You don't have to lie.

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