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. Ignoring the legendary back story and cultural capital of the band, is this group of songs worth my attention?
2. As either a Mission of Burma or post-funk aficionado, will these songs hit the tried and true pleasure zones?
While casual listeners will be most interested in the former question, superfans will be interested in the latter. I fall into the casual camp, and my answer to the first question is “I don’t know, perhaps when I’m in the right mood”, but I believe the answer to the second question would be “totally”.
It’s hard to deny the fun of witty, Clint Conley-sung leadoff track “1, 2, 3, Partyy!” Burma come out of the gates running fast, fulfilling one third of The Sound The Speed The Light’s requirements right off the bat. On second song “Possession”, Roger Miller’s guitar covers quite a bit of sonic territory, screeching and careening all over the place as he sings about the attempt to own experiences and the physicality of memories. Peter Prescott takes the mic on hard-charging, third track, “Blunder”, bringing the most compelling (if more grating) voice of the three, and his blunter social commentary. Three tracks in and it’s obvious that this is going to be a loud and intense album in all of the positive ways. Songs zig and zag at will, following their own logic and proceeding in unpredictable directions.
What’s impressive about this recording is its workmanlike consistency. Though often tagged art rock, the raw physicality and the unrelenting mechanical grind on display throughout these tracks gives an impression more of blue collar toil and labor. The amount of focus and effort that went into producing this album is palpable, betraying a feeling that the band didn’t have time to worry themselves with lofty pretensions or putting on an artistic touch because they have so much fucking work to do right this very instant. That’s refreshing and appreciated, but in a way, the lack of much innovation here can seem a little “so what?” at times to a non-devoted follower. But there is some light shining through in a few places. “SSL 83” rattles into existence, soon followed by some simple keyboard chords that sound positively bright amid the other more orthodox arrangements. Bob Weston also includes some backwards cut-up vocals to keep listeners on their toes. “After the Rain” includes a break of “Oooh oohs” and some high register keyboard vamping half way through that lifts the track into an exalted end after spending some time in the post-punk trenches. “So Fuck It” just sounds a little more out of control than most of the other tracks here, breaking the steadfastly generic M.O. The anthemic final track “Slow Faucet” shows that the band can do dynamics and restraint with the best of them. Starting contemplatively, then slowly building and then bursting at the seams with a sing-along chorus, this track eventually introduces three distinct voices and cadences to the mix, before a relatively dreamy bridge and noisy guitar segue takes the song back for another ride through the cycle. The album ends with its best and most memorable song.
In the end, this is another passionately rendered post-punk album, filled to the brim with unpolished vocals, unpredictable shifts, timely dissonance, rhythmic insistence, and loosely controlled chaos. No one can accuse Mission of Burma of phoning it in, cashing in, or giving in. This album sounded exactly as I imagined it would, sounding pumped in straight from a dingy practice space from the early 80’s. It’s just that the music sounds more in service to the post-punk ideal than to the individual songs, affecting a feeling of taking a wild trip through a style instead of offering memorable individual experiences. So it seems the same single-mindedness that will greatly please hardcore fans will leave the occasional listener feeling fairly indifferent. Sometimes it just depends on where you’re coming from.