Friday, March 28, 2014

Mission of Burma - "Signals, Calls, and Marches" (LP Review)

For my 200th post on F-Measure, I'm covering something simultaneously new, old, and timeless.  One of the pleasant finds from my recent reading of "Our Band Could Be Your Life" was Boston's Mission of Burma.  I have a vague memory of Terry talking about them while we were in college, and I knew a band by that name existed, but I don't remember actually listening to them at the time.  Part of the problem is they essentially broke up in 1983 after two landmark releases, a result of guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus.  They reformed in 2002, but had largely missed out on the scene they so heavily influenced.  In doing so, they nicely illustrate the difference between "popular" and "influential".  Example: Pearl Jam's 1993's LP "Vs." is named in honor to Mission of Burma's 1982 LP "Vs.". 

As influential as "Vs." was, my personal favorite is their 1981 debut EP "Signals, Calls, and Marches".  Keep in mind that I discovered it some 30 years after its debut, but it still sounds fresh and relevant today.  It occupies the transitional space between early 80s "punk" and "college alternative" in a way that contemporaries like Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag, and other candidates simply don't.  Part of it is their strong song writing (with hooks!), without compromising their heaviness and anger, and intelligent lyrics.  Another dimension is member Martin Swope, credited as "tape manipulator/sound engineer", who used techniques you'd associate more with early 70s Pink Floyd to add a rich but subtle extra dimension to an otherwise sparse, angular punk sound.

So while this is over 30 years old, I just "discovered" it within the last year.   Give it a listen: it will sound both new and familiar.

Standout songs: "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", "Fame and Fortune", "This Is Not a Photograph", "All World Cowboy Romance", "Academy Fight Song"

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final Score: 9/10 

Bonus link: the entire, original six song EP

Bonus links to covers: Moby - "That's When I Reach For My Revolver", R.E.M. - "Academy Fight Song".  While: 1) I have much respect for both Moby and R.E.M., and 2) I love covers... -- let's just say these versions underscore how good the originals are.

Note: my copy of the CD is the 1997 Ryko re-release which adds their 1980 7" single "Academy Fight Song" to the end of the original EP, so that's what I review here. 

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