July 5, 2012

Album Review: Mission of Burma's Unsound


Mission of Burma's legacy is beyond cemented within indie circles, having resurfaced in 2002 after being apart for nearly 20 years and picking right where they left off (if not for the better) with three barreling albums of innovative post-punk with 2004's ONoffOn, 2006's The Obliterati and 2009's The Sound the Speed the Light. You could easily argue that their post-reunion-era output has brought them more acclaim and ingenuity than when they were together in the '80s, consistently pillaging through braver ideas upheld by reignited vigor on each subsequent release, whether it be Roger Miller leaning on sharp, angular riffs or Clint Conley swooning his guitar into spacier hooks and ultimately coming together for something loud and mighty. Four albums since their aughts reconvening and you have to ask yourself what more Mission of Burma has to prove at this stage in their career, if anything at all. On their sixth LP Unsound, we don't necessarily get any tremendously huge surprises, but the Boston-based post-punk pioneers are still mangling and manipulating their sound, with the results sounding just as fresh as they did 30 years ago.

It's said that all three original members of the band made it a purpose to push themselves as songwriters in order to ensure "it was actually worthwhile making another record". Miller and Conley even went as far as swapping instruments during the writing process for a change of pace and perspective. No slight to Mission of Burma at all here, but the post-punk vets have molded a familiar style around their sound which isn't hard to pick out, so it's these "tweaks" that make Unsound most rewarding when listened to carefully. No longer part of the Matador roster, the production on this LP is more raw, open and scratching than anything they've released in the new millennium, allowing the Clint Conley-penned tracks to stand out the most here if only because his soaring anthemry without sounding too "pop" has no ceiling to it, and while aimless, it's awesome ("Semi-Pseudo-Sort-of-Plan," "Second Television," "7's") The Roger Miller tunes ("Dust Devil," "Fell-->H2O") on the other hand remain typically taught and filled with jolted time signatures as they clank around the sound board, beckoning back to MoB's more simplified Vs. direction.

There is one thing that Unsound doesn't do well however and it's live up to it's album title, as Mission of Burma very often breaks free of themselves in fits of anger, noise and flagrant lyrical satire that all adds up to one fractured mess, which sounds great if only because these indie vets can make a collision of riffs and repetitive shouting sound like renegading portraits of art rock ("This is Hi-Fi," "What They Tell Me," and the ironically-titled instrumental closer "Opener.") Unsound plays like a constant onslaught of pulled-apart narratives unlike a majority of the band's catalog where the consensus is obvious, but new ideas and the constant need to grow as songwriters is what makes Mission of Burma's latest record something just as notable, as the sound they created together 30 years ago maintains its original value no matter which way they deconstruct and reassemble it.


Mission of Burma's Unsound will be released July 10, 2012 on Fire Records.

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