Mission Of Burma – Unsound (Fire Records)


(This review originally appeared at www.spectrumculture.com)

Out of the seemingly endless hordes of bands to reform in the past decade, few have had as impressive a second act as Mission Of Burma. The key to the Boston post-punk outfit’s success in the new millennium has been the way they push all the same thought-provoking buttons they used to, while simultaneously retaining every ounce of primal energy from earliest recordings. It’s a potent mix of brain and brawn, the kind of rare balance that made it possible for them to find space on hardcore bills while also playing with U.K. post-punk outfits like PiL. That they’re still making such challenging (and ultimately rewarding) music three decades on is no small feat, but somehow they’re pulling it off and even making it look easy at times.

Unsound is Burma’s fourth album since resuming activity in 2002, and their first since leaving Matador Records for venerable British indie Fire Records. Opening track “Dust Devil” is a 1:58 audio tour of everything fans have come to expect from Mission of Burma: Roger Miller’s passionate raw-throated vocals and tuneful guitar squall combined with Clint Conley (bass) and Peter Prescott (drums) whipping up some of the most punishing sounds a rhythm section has ever laid down, outside of hardcore and metal. Perhaps the only change between the old and current eras of Mission of Burma is that Martin Swope, the man responsible for those mind-expanding tape manipulations, is no longer part of the group, having declined to participate in the reunion. However, Bob Weston of Shellac has assumed Swope‘s position, using the same, now out-dated, analog machinery Swope used to record and then alter the band’s live performances, reconfiguring them into new textures which he would then play back into the song. Think of it as a primitive version of sampling, done live in real-time. Weston more than earns his paycheck with the wild textures he overlays onto Conley’s “Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of Plan” which will have you scratching your head wondering just how the band achieved such alien sounds. Miller (whose angular approach to songwriting plays perfectly against the smoother current of Conley’s anthem-style songs) delivers big-time with “What They Tell Me” which features Weston playing trumpet parts that are completely unexpected, and therefore totally part and parcel with the band‘s determination to push themselves into new territories.

While Unsound is impressive there are a few hiccups along the way. “This Is Hi-Fi” finds the band going a little too far into the deep end with herky-jerky rhythms and it results in a song that sacrifices emotional impact for experimentation. Also, while most of the album is very good, it doesn’t have that defining song, like a “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” or “Academy Fight Song”, that the band built their reputation on. But that’s OK, because the creativity and fiery musicianship displayed on Unsound does nothing to hurt their reputation. If you’ve been waiting for the day when Mission Of Burma finally stops firing on all cylinders and releases an album that you can ignore and brush to the side, you’ll have to wait at least a little while longer. These 34 minutes are as solid as a rock.

Tracklisting:

01. Dust Devil
02. Semi-Pseudo-Sort-Of Plan
03. Sectionals In Mourning
04. This Is Hi-Fi
05. Second Television
06. Part The Sea
07. Fell –> H2O
08. ADD In Unison
09. 7’s
10. What They Tell Me
11. Opener