Release Date: Oct 6, 2009
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Rock, Punk
In their first go-round in the early 1980s, Mission of Burma were equal parts innovation and perspiration. Their muscular post-punk was groundbreaking, but it also had a workman-like quality. Maybe that's what made them unique-- Roger Miller, Clint Conley, and Peter Prescott always had their noses to the grindstone even when they were being visionary.
Conviction. A band like Mission of Burma has thrived on such a simple modus operandi since their beginnings in the early eighties. It makes the music enthusiast speculate what’s really important when it’s time to judge on a final product. Some will say that it’s the execution of skillful songwriting, a dash of innovation, or a sound that becomes memorable with repeated listens.
With their third album in their Mach 2 incarnation, swapping out tape manipulator and producer Martin Swope for Shellac's Bob Weston, Mission of Burma have rather implausibly eclipsed their original lineup's quantity of recorded output. And the quality, while not quite up to snuff with classics like "Trem Two" and "Academy Fight Song," is nonetheless superb. .
In a decade that's been filled with alternative rock warhorses staging increasingly unlikely reunions (ranging from the Stooges to the Pixies), one can reasonably argue that no band has had a more satisfying second act than Mission of Burma. They were a group with almost peerless credibility and a catalog destined to stand the test of time when they broke up in 1983, and since returning to duty in 2002, in many respects they've become an even better band, playing consistently strong and blisteringly powerful live shows and recording two albums, Onoffon and The Obliterati, that are as intelligent and satisfying as those they released in the 1980s. So if The Sound the Speed the Light can be called a disappointment, it's only in the most relative terms; from a band that's released two great albums within a space of three years after 19 years out of the game, this one instead falls into the category of "very good.
When we think of bands from the early '80s doing the same kind of thing they've been doing since the early '80s, it usually has a negative connotation. Most bands from the early '80s, however, are not Mission of Burma. The Sound the Speed the Light, the band's third album since reuniting after a 20-plus-year hiatus, is not on the same level as its predecessors.
In the seven years since Boston, MA cerebro-punk icons Mission of Burma reformed – ending a 19-year wilderness following their 1983 split – the amount of bands who have followed their lead and got back together has increased year on year. Consequently, the solipsistic whinging of ‘serious music fans’ who inexplicably think that it is in any way their business if a band chooses to revisit its previous creations has also increased year on year. Why not just carry on paying no attention to them, like you did a fortnight ago when you believed them to be dormant? Oh, that’s quite impossible – I’ve seen five people Twitter about how they’re looking forward to the Pavement ATP performance today alone! Thanks, I’ve been looking for a definitive example of a first world problem, so your efforts are appreciated.
Since reforming in 2002, Mission of Burma has consistently avoided the most common pitfall in the biz: a once-influential band reunites and sullies their good name in the process. And living up to such landmarks of American post-punk as 1981’s Signals, Calls, and Marches and 1982’s Vs. is no cakewalk. Those albums sound as vital today as they did upon their release and if they aren’t in your arsenal of music… well, check them out now because you’re missing out.
Now that they’ve released their third post-reunion full-length, it’s time to stop acting like Mission of Burma is a reunion show and treat them like any other going concern in the music world. In the current environment of high supply and limited demand (well, limited only by how many hours a day one can stay awake and listen to music), this means asking one of two questions. 1.
From Sonic Youth to Yo La Tengo, Matador Records has sponsored the indie rock reawakening of 2009. The same sentiment holds true for the Mission of Burma's The Sound the Speed the Light. Whereas 2004's ONoffON reaffirmed The Horrible Truth About Burma after a 19-year hiatus – caused by guitarist Roger Miller's severe tinnitus – and 2006's The Obliterati only turned up the volume, this latest LP completes the Boston quartet's post-millennium trifecta.