Mission of Burma, ‘Unsound’ – Album Review
What a long strange trip it’s been for Mission of Burma. It bears repeating that the Boston band broke up two decades ago. It also bears repeating that they broke up because of singer/guitarist Roger Miller's ever-growing tinnitus. Or, more bluntly: The band rocked so hard, and so loud, that they destroyed their own hearing. And then got back together. And have since made four awesome albums, ‘Unsound’ being the latest.
For the uninitiated, a bit of history is in order. Mission of Burma, taking their name from an ominously titled building bassist Clint Conley once saw, were a formative post punk band in their first iteration, with 1982’s ‘Vs.’ standing as a classic. Talk about paving the way: Bands like Sonic Youth, Guided by Voices, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana all held them as influences.
That’s partially what makes ‘Unsound’ and the other post-2002-releases such interesting cultural artifacts: They all strike a kind of pan-anachronistic chord. The songs here would feel out of place, and of out of time, whether they were on their 1979 demos or released this week. Examples: The maniacal mantra of ‘This is Hi-Fi’ all angry and ironic (or maybe ironically angry), and ‘Semi-Pseuo-Sort-Of-Plan’s build up into weird whispered tension. While well-versed at gleeful aural destruction, the band does at times relent. ‘Second Television’ has '90s indie pop guitar jangles, soft harmonies and a cowbell keeping rhythm, while the distorted urgency of ‘Add in Unison’ opens into new member Bob Weston’s redemptive trumpet. Still, the guys seem primarily concerned with smashing everything around them, as evidenced by hilariously titled closer ‘Opener’ -- distortion reigns throughout these 34 swift minutes.
‘Unsound,’ as the name implies, is a kind of inverse, a legendary band making a record that could have been their first. Gnarled and thriving, Mission of Burma show no signs of slowing down -- or holding back.