The reformation of the grandaddy of the American Underground, Mission of Burma, has been something for the ages. To sum up their newest record, I have only two words; Rock Lives.
Fire Records, 2012
8.4 / 10.0
Over the last decade or so, a lot of work has been done to canonize the music of the 80′s American Underground. Little by little, you see more coverage of bands like The Replacements, Sonic Youth, and the Minutemen slipping into texts of the holiest acts in rock history. Querulously absent from most of these discussions is one of the movement’s undeniable progenitors, Mission of Burma. It’s been 33 years since the band’s formation and 10 years since their impressively productive reformation, and yet you hardly see them discussed with the reverence reserved for Black Flag or Husker Du. What makes this so frustrating is that Mission of Burma is the only one of these groups not only making music today, but doing a damn good job of it too.
Since 2004′s Onoffon, Burma has challenged their own sound with each new record, sounding just as fresh as their fantastic early 80′s recordings like Signals, Calls and Marches and Vs. With this newest installment, Unsound, the band has cast off the anthemic sound of their best early songs (“Academy Fight Song”, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”), in favor of a doomsday bulldozer rhythm section, constantly churning behind Roger Miller’s post-apocalyptic guitar and vocals. This is an especially surprising turn of events, since the first three records after the group’s reformation had done so much to revive Burma’s reputation as punk anthem gods. Nonetheless, Unsound is a brilliant and challenging record, on par with or better than anything they have done before. With the recent successful reformations of Burma contemporaries like The Feelies and dB’s, it only makes sense that the grandaddy of them all would resurface to deliver everyone a kick to the ass.
From the first few notes of album opener “Dust Devil”, you can immediately see the genome. In this music lies the secret to unlocking so many other great American rock bands. You can hear the development of Fugazi, Seventh Day Dream, and Helmet. Yet, Burma has cultivated something that none of those bands possessed. On Unsound, the songs keep this sort of frenetic, unplanned pace that recalls those great early Talking Heads or Gang of Four records. You can almost hear the music coming apart at the seams, with each song ending just before the whole thing falls apart. Miller’s guitar work has a lot to do with that. The record isn’t completely devoid of its anthems. “Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of Plan” does have some of that fist pumping energy you feel with “Academy Fight Song”, but there is a lot more concern placed on the depth of sound here. “Part the Sea” sounds like what might have happened if last year’s collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica had been…well…good.
Old age, it seems, has absolutely no place for consideration in Burma’s world. Though the songs keep a constant, maddening pace, the band makes sure to take enough time between records to recharge and only release something deserving of being shoved down the world’s throat. The music here is more raw than anything I’ve heard from the punk or metal world this year (at least). Unsound is not simply proof that rock music is still alive. This record is proof that rock is something worth fighting for. The Minutemen once asked, What Makes A Man Start Fires? I think Unsound just might be the answer.
“Part the Sea”
“What They Tell Me”
Purchase Mission of Burma’s Unsound.