Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches EP

Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls and Marches

Imagine the Stooges. Now, imagine taking Raw Power, rolling it around in fuzz and distortion, and throwing in lyrics about surrealist and existentialist philosophy. Amplify it by a thousand, and you have Mission of Burma.

Born out of the ashes of a short-lived Boston area band called Moving Parts, friends Roger Miller (guitar) and Clint Conley (bass), enlisting the help of drummer Peter Prescott, formed Mission of Burma in 1979. Mission of Burma quickly turned heads, gaining underground support and critical acclaim with both the release of their debut single “Academy Fight Song”, and their ear-shattering live shows. They would later release an EP and a full-length recording, on their way to reaching the zenith of Boston’s growing alternative scene before their break-up four years later, due to Miller’s worsening case of tinnitus.

To best understand Mission of Burma is to understand their influence and their innovation as a band. This was a group that played post-punk like no other, creating some of the most elaborate and improbable soundscapes ever to grace vinyl. They played with a sort of instrumental ferocity that is rarely, if ever matched, forging raucous arty punk through some of the most creative use of tape loops to date. Their music was often dark in tone, going back and forth between quiet minimalism to pounding desperation. Flanked by the thick, cascading guitar riffs of Roger Miler and the all-encompassing layers of distortion backing him up, Mission of Burma were noisy, loud, and often brilliant.

When cited, they are generally remembered for their one full-length recording, Vs., but their best work, in my mind, was the 1981 release Signals, Calls and Marches. From the opening isolated guitar line of “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”, it becomes quickly aware that this is an entirely focused piece of work. One can almost hear the desolation in the background as the protagonist cries out for all that he has lost. The pounding drums guide this song along as it builds into its austere climax, remaining remarkably poppy and accessible despite its bleak subject matter. From here, we move onto the far rougher sounds of “Outlaw”, then on to the angry criticisms of “Fame and Fortune”, and then to the steady forceful punk of “This Is Not a Photograph”.

The final two songs are both stunning in their beauty. “Red” is a brooding anthem of sorts, progressed by striking guitar patterns and a hammering drum beat. The song is permeated by a haunting set of backup vocals, lending creepy disposition to the song that only grows as the singer cries “things are crumbling outside me”. Finishing the album is the absolutely exquisite instrumental piece, “All World Cowboy Romance”. Using the richness of the guitars to their full potential, Miller and Conley intertwine their instruments to construct a lush, luxuriant body of sound that has to be heard to be believed. Prescott wails away on the drums, orchestrating and directing the tempo with his almost methodical pace. Personally speaking, this is one of the finest instrumentals I have ever heard, and ranks as one of my favourite songs of all-time. Eventually the band reaches a serene crescendo, one still pulsating with the power of the drums as it climaxes and denoues.

With Signals, Calls and Marches, Mission of Burma created their greatest achievement, and set the stage for one of the most influential bands of the 80’s. This is one of the rare occasions in which an EP is the best thing in a band’s discography, and, given the quality of their other releases, this is not a remark to be taken lightly. It’s not just arty; it’s a full-fledged work of art on the same plane as, or perhaps even surpassing the best that post-punk has to offer.

(Note: The 1997 re-release includes the singles "Academy Fight Song" and "Max Ernst" as bonus tracks, and they are included in the link below.)

Signals, Calls and Marches


gabbagabbahey said...

hey - bats ep:

lemme know what you think. And what exactly is a 'listening party', anyway?

check these out too: (interview and selection of obscure tracks by the singer) and (their distro)

cretin said...

thanks man, appreciate it.

a 'listening party' would just be a collection of mp3's uploaded to a site for listening pleasure. essentially the same thing as a band's myspace page, only uploaded from a 3rd party source for the intent of giving recognition to a deserving band. I imagine you're familiar with the concept, if not the specific name.

anyway, just gave the EP a listen through, and its pretty good. its surprisingly dance-y/jazzy for hardcore, while still managing to keep an almost ominous heaviness to it. and that's without mentioning the technical prowess and variability of the band throughout.

Anonymous said...

wow, the tagging in this .rar is shit. misnumbered, unnumbered, incomplete tags at 160kpbs