Mission Of Burma – [Album]

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Because it's been happening so much over the last few years, it has become reasonable to assume that it's easy for a band to reconvene or stage a comeback. How couldn't it be? The groundwork, name and mythos for the band has already been laid, it's just a matter of the band coming back and collecting on the dues they paid already right? Wrong. Unless the plan is to simply come back and capitalize on nostalgia, having a history can hurt a band as much as help it. Because they seem to do so in near perpetuity, it's a safe bet that music tastes, styles, approaches to composition, ideas and technology have changed since the band in question's heyday and coming back as if they've just been thawed from suspended animation isn't much of an option because whatever the band does will be viewed as anachronistic. It's a frustrating catch twenty-two; in addition to facing the same fickle public and creative pitfalls that all groups experience, the reconstituted or reconvened band has the hurdle of not not being able to make music exactly as they had before but not abandoning the persona or process that won them fans the first time either.

In Mission Of Burma's case, the perils of coming back as they did with ONoffON after twenty-one years away, were numerous and pretty clear: because they were an indie band when the term still meant operating independently, the band would have to join the ranks of the great unwashed and and fight for a place in pop beyond being the private pleasure of the band's diminished devout true believers (which may have numbered in the hundreds). As well, the otherworldly sounds created for the band by sound scientist Martin Swope had reached a vintage maturity and, because others had picked up on them, weren't all that unique anymore.

Worse, Swope had not returned to the band; happily Shellac bassist/lauded producer and engineer Bob Weston eagerly agreed to fill in.

The first couple of releases back (2004's ONoffON and The Obliterati, released in 2006) were respectable efforts  that found Mission Of Burma recapturing their power ably, but the band's history repeated itself; as was the case in 1983, Mission Of Burma remained the private pleasure of a select group of aficionados. It wasn't the most heartening of returns, but everyone just stayed positive and maintained that any reception at all was better than none.

These words have been uttered before, but now might be a better time for Mission Of Burma. Now – as the music business contemplates the possibility of its own collapse and big, established names like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead and Pearl Jam abandon their major label homes in favor of the comfortable climes of the indie(ish) nation and reconnect with their roots, fans are following them underground and thus rediscovering the soil there.That's where they'll find Mission Of Burma waiting and, as luck would have it, the band even has the best, strongest and most original album they've released since Vs. ready to show in the form of The Sound The Speed The Light.

TSTSTL represents the point at which Mission Of Burma proves they're ready to move forward  and they do just that from the opening surge of “1, 2, 3, Party!!!,” the first genuinely irony-free party anthem Mission Of Burma has ever released. Combining the sidewinding and angular (but certainly not gaunt) guitars, only passably melodic vocals and staggering beats that have always been integral to the band's sound  with more pumping and propulsive bass, Mission Of Burma smashes forth with a wild abandon the band has only hinted at before in their 31-year history. Here, they don't hold back for a second and just dig in to the ominous vibes they're conjuring, don't try to reserve anything and, with Weston manipulating a maelstrom of malicious barbs, sinks a hook the size of a fisherman's gaffe into listeners; in this moment, Mission Of Burma snaps listeners to attention and holds them in that perilous stance.

With that tone set, the band freezes listeners just there and proceeds to knock out the finest form of succinct and caustic, but instantly memorable and pop-identified rockers the band has ever collected into one place. Songs including “Blunder,” “SSL 83” and “So Fuck It” all spill red hot nails behind them to catch listeners and drag them through a toxic wasteland that isn't dark and isn't angry so much as it is a tenuous straddling act between catharsis and dismissal; it's as if the band will only give to a point before they simply give up on listeners and play for themselves and it's in those moments that the band shines all the brighter. The emotional distance between “Possession” and “Forget Yourself,” between “One Day We Will Live There” and “So Fuck It” illustrates the ground rules for how singer/guitarist Roger Miller offers and rescinds his feelings throughout the run-time of The Sound The Speed The Light and every step of the way, bassist Clint Conley and drummer Peter Prescott are right there in step with him; the band embraces listeners and burns them, cuts them and caresses them and, each time the final word is Weston's as his ghostly manipulated rejoinders trail off at each track's close to make sure that listeners don't miss the final point. It's not a welcoming endeavor at all and the band seems to go out of its way to violently put listeners off, but that only makes them want to stick even closer to see what happens next; virtually from note one contrary behavior begets contrary behavior and the effect here turns out to be a very rewarding experience.

Will people finally clue in to that? The easiest answer is a solid maybe – given the tenor of events outside of everyone's control, listeners are once against turning their attention to music that exists outside of the most popular channels and that fact at least leaves the possibility that Mission Of Burma will finally get the popular notice they so dearly deserve very open. There are no guarantees but, at least with The Sound The Speed The Light, Mission Of Burma have made it that much easier to understand where the fuel came from if they do indeed explode.



Mission Of Burma – “So Fuck It” – The Sound The Speed TheLight

Further Reading:
Mission Of Burma discography review on Ground Control.

The Sound The Speed The Light
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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