35 Years Ago: Mission of Burma Arrive With ‘Signals, Calls and Marches’
For many the '80s were all about big things. Big hair, big synths, bigger guitars and big egos. For others, it was about a different kind of big. A big underground music world that played host to countless great bands of varying styles and sounds. Among them were Mission of Burma.
Hailing from Boston, Mission of Burma formed in 1979, drawing on the energy and independence of punk. The band set off on their own path and turned many ears with their debut single, "Academy Fight Song," and their debut July 1981 EP Signals, Calls and Marches.
The songs on Signals found a warm embrace at college radio stations across America. Their mix of jagged guitar lines and urgent rhythms, reminiscent of bands such as Talking Heads, Gang of Four and Public Image Ltd. made a natural fit for the underground of the era. Those attributes alone would have caught fire, but guitarist Roger Miller and bassist Clint Conley also had hooks, melodies and personality for miles.
The opening track, "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," remains a classic of the era. Its haunting yet driving mood surges until it explodes. This was pop filtered through the post-punk prism to create something unique. The song later gained attention when Moby covered it in 1996. Moby, however, toned it down, changing some of the lyrics, including the chorus (for the MTV-friendly version) to "That's When I Realize It's Over."
The six songs are all dynamic, tight and focused. From the jarring sound of "Outlaw" to the driving attack of "Fame and Fortune," the EP shows the variety of which the band was capable. "This Is Not a Photograph" and "Red" both sell stock in punk energy while the instrumental "All World Cowboy Romance" closes it out in a whirl of Velvet Underground drama that could hold its own against anyone dealing in similar trade at the time.
Mission of Burma would issue one more record, the full length album Vs. before disbanding in 1983 due to a very serious case of tinnitus affecting Roger Miller. The band were not shy about playing very loud live shows which, in part, led to Miller's health issue.
Though their initial life was a short one, their music would influence bands like R.E.M., Guided by Voices, and Fugazi to name a few. In 2004, the band reunited and since then have recorded four more full length albums.
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