Mission of Burma – The Obliterati

Mission of Burma
The Obliterati

Mission of Burma’s 2004 reunion record – ONoffON – skillfully dodged issues about the band’s modern-day relevance, some 20 years after hearing-impairment provoked the group’s long separation. Recycling and re-recording a clutch of vintage outtakes alongside a smattering of newer songs, as well as deploying cleaner production values, ONoffON disguised the true validity of the band’s return to the fray. To compensate for the album’s debatable durability, Roger Miller (vocals/guitar), Clint Conley (vocals/bass), and Peter Prescott (vocals/drums) covered their backs with some fearsome live shows, packed with classic tracks from 1981’s Signals, Calls and Marches EP and 1982’s Vs. LP and some remarkable covers (notably Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”). But such a nostalgia-fuelled reawakening could only sustain the band for so long before Conley’s declared desire not “to become some kind of living museum piece” came back to haunt him and his colleagues. So in comes The Obliterati, ostensibly promising the sound of Burma 2006 rammed back through the dense sonic blender of Vs.

However, predictably, The Obliterati is neither a full-scale resurrection of former glories nor a revolutionary call-to-arms. Instead, the album offers a rambunctious reclamation of all the pieces from the original MoB blueprints that got shredded and scattered amongst the post-hardcore and alt-rock legionnaires of the past two decades. Hence the bulk of the record is like eye-spying the ‘Burmarized’ re-assimilation of your favourite indie-rock back catalogues. Thus there’s gnarly college-rock (“2wice”), a bass-juddering Jesus Lizard stomp (“Spider’s Web”), some early Mercury Rev-meets-Sonic Youth elastic melody and dissonance (“Donna Sumeria”), Fugazi-flavoured staccato hardcore-punk (“Let Yourself Go”), a bleary Grant Hart/Hüsker Dü-style anthem (“1001 Pleasant Dreams”), and a guttural Bob Mould/Sugar-like grinder (“Good, Not Great”), all compacted into the first six dizzying tracks.

Midway through comes the curveball of “13,” a sinister string-adorned elegy that sounds like a time-machine enabled collaboration between Dead Can Dance and Joy Division. The thuggish momentum is therefore crucially broken, with the ensuing “Man in Decline” taking a back road route to its full-throttle conclusion. The aptly named “Careening with Conviction” slides along with a distended Dinosaur Jr. chug and squeal, made even more disorientating by tape-loop trickery from Shellac’s Bob Weston (MoB’s latter-day studio and live sound manipulator). Energy levels drop again with the meandering trio of “Birthday,” “The Mute Speaks Out, and “Is This Where?” – but frankly, it’s understandable given the frenetic velocity of the album’s more arresting first half. Yet just when it seems that proceedings have run themselves into ragged exhaustion, in comes the bizarre one-two-punch of the Prescott-led “Period” and Conley’s “Nancy Reagan’s Head” to prove that middle-aged men can make mad-eyed post-punk as well as (if not better than) younger guitar-slingers.

So whilst The Obliterati is certainly not a patch on the seminal Vs. – given that it lacks the same magical combination of cerebral claustrophobia and kinetic psychosis – it’s easily more potent than the over-oiled ONoffON. Although the whole collection undoubtedly needed some more judicious pruning, editing, and sequencing, the surging audacity of its barbed melody-mangling is hard to dismiss as merely a busted flush from some old codgers on a retro trip. Not a ‘museum piece’ then; more an undead history defying the impediments of fashion.