Release Date: Jul 10, 2012
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Burma's been reunited for more than twice as long as they were active the first time, resulting in now five 21st century albums of indie that actually rawks. Unsound booms with veteran heat and chops, folding in weird trumpet parts, weirder harmonies, tumbling drums and smart punk riffs, praising hi-fi and dissing tiny sounds. Long may they reach for their revolvers.
Conventional wisdom has it that rock bands tend to find a comfortable creative path with the passage of time, and as they age their music settles into a predictable cycle. Thankfully, conventional wisdom has nothing to do with Mission of Burma, and 33 years after they started making music together (and ten years after they defied all expectations by reuniting), Unsound confirms these guys haven't run out of ways to surprise us, or to challenge themselves. While 2009's The Sound the Speed the Light suggested Mission of Burma were losing a bit of their focus, Unsound is as radical and aggressive as anything they have ever created, and hits with the unified force of a fist to the temple.
We all know the story by now, but it bears repeating now that we’re on album number four in Mission of Burma’s impressive second act. Taking a 20-year hiatus would be enough to upend most bands—or, at the very least, render them former shells of themselves—but Mission of Burma continues to make some truly glorious noise on Unsound. By today’s standards this new collection might not come off as particularly groundbreaking, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a big and ferocious ball of ear candy.
They’ve been heralded as post-punk luminaries, but you’d need at least three more posts to describe the sprawling path Mission Of Burma have trod since reuniting in 2002. On their fourth album since the seminal ‘Vs’, their scope broadens but constants remain: Clint Conley’s milky vocals; Roger Miller’s cerebral metallic guitars; Pete Prescott’s drunken drum pound. ‘Sectionals In Mourning’ traverses melodic bass thrums, Prescott’s gang-recruiting shouts and Miller wielding his guitar like a broken weapon.
Boston art-noise outfit Mission of Burma only managed one critically lauded album before splitting up when singer-guitarist Roger Miller developed tinnitus. However, since reactivating in 2002, they have quadrupled their back catalogue, displaying just why they've been cited as an influence by acts as diverse as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Moby and Graham Coxon. This exuberant fifth album again shows they're still a force to be reckoned with, while stretching their tuneful, time-signature-shifting style ever further.
A decade into their second career, Mission of Burma have become the musical equivalent of an athlete who succeeds with fundamentals over flash, or a team that defends its way into the playoffs every year. There aren't tons of transcendent moments on their four post-reunion albums, and it's unlikely any band will be inspired to cover any of the 52 songs they've recorded since 2002 (unlike their first go-round, when they made such gems that even Moby paid tribute). But there's not a weak second to be found, and each record is winningly relentless.
In a musical landscape where reunions are a dime a dozen, post-punk outfit Mission of Burma are rare indeed. While they had a four-year run from 1979-1983, the majority of their touring and release schedule has occurred in the last 10 years. In a way, that makes the foursome a fairly “young” band that’s still defining itself after four albums.
By and large, this is no longer the so-called “indie-rock nostalgia circuit,” not after Mission of Burma’s post-reunion recorded output almost quadruples that of their formal years. In a time when everyone’s favorite band from whenever in the past three decades has decided to step up and “work” again, Mission of Burma have not only been doing the “work,” but have also been working at the “work,” making each album since their 2004 reunion album OnOffOn an example of both their sound and their aesthetic. Despite how one may feel about the quality of their most recent material, it goes without saying that it is admirable (if not impressive) that MoB continue to make their albums in these times.
We've long since forgiven Mission of Burma for their 19-year hiatus; if you wanted to make the argument that Burma 2.0 is an even better band than the first go-round, you probably won't be instantly dismissed as crazy. The quality—and comparative volume—of music they've put out since 2004's ONoffON has shifted the conversation away from the band's decade-old reunion. At this point, it's easy to forget they were ever gone.
With Unsound, the mere fact that Mission of Burma has a new album has gone from unbelievable to completely acceptable. 10 years ago, they reformed for their follow-up to 1982’s game-changing Vs, a record which made waves in the underground punk scene before being immortalized in Pearl Jam’s sophomore album of the same name. But Unsound is their fourth since that reunion, so the surprise is that the group has decided to push their boundaries far more than they have on any of their past few releases.
Of all of the post-punk and alt. rock bands to reunite in the last ten years, Mission of Burma should be looked upon as a shining example. Now ten years into their reunion, which now dwarfs their original four-year run, the band are still in great shape as live performers, and they are one of the few acts to deliver new music instead of just playing the nostalgia card.
“Forget what you know” goes the solitary lyrical line of “Opener”, which is cheekily the 11th and final song on the fifth and latest Mission of Burma studio album, Unsound—which so happens to be the fourth album the group has released since reforming 10 years ago. Clearly, the band definitely wants listeners and fans to take that lyric to heart. The Boston-based alternative-pop-noise quartet has gone off in a different approach to writing songs for the album, in an effort to change things up on their first disc for U.K.-based Fire Records since the band’s stint on Matador came to a close earlier this year, forcing the group to search out a new label partner.
What ever happened to killing your idols? In the post-punk heyday destroying the established pop cannon of the then recent past was the key to willing into existence a bright new cultural tomorrow brimming with endless possibilities. Sure in practice that sort of ideological futurist purity is impossible to live up to, but it was the intent that counted, representing a commitment to revolutionary progress, as well as an eagerness to challenge and confuse rather than mollycoddle audiences. And, of course, it led to the creation of heaps of brilliant records.
In a delicious bit of irony, Mission Of Burma was almost dismantled by the very force that gave it life: noise. Shortly after 1982’s Vs. became the crown jewel of post-punk, the Boston band called it quits due to frontman Roger Miller’s tinnitus. And then, in 2002, they came back, in an incarnation even louder and more ferocious than before.
Eight years into one of the most fruitful and productive reunions in indie rock, Mission of Burma's 21st century run now more than doubles the amount of material the Boston act produced first time around. Unsound, their fourth post-reunion album, continues their winning streak. As with the previous three, Clint Conley, Roger Miller, Peter Prescott and Bob Weston reshape a sound established 30 years ago without retreading the past or attempting to modernize their sound.
It is 20 years since Mission Of Burma released their debut album ‘Vs.’, although you wouldn’t know if from listening to their new record ‘Unsound’. If you played both to someone who knew nothing of the band they’d say they were recorded within a few months of each other. That’s not to say that Unsound sounds dated, just that you would never believe it was made by a group of men firmly in middle age.This is the fourth album the band has released since reforming in 2004, but the spark and song-writing talent that first saw them become underground heroes is obviously still there.