Mission of Burma – The Obliterati

Among the best US punk bands to emerge in the late 1970s and 1980s was Boston’s Mission of Burma.

Just a look at their first 1979 line up shows they were no mere spirit-of-1977 wannabes, Roger Miller (guitar), Clint Conley (bass), Peter Prescott (drums) and Martin Swope (tape manipulator). How many bands of that era could boast a manipulator of tapes among their ranks?

After 1981’s seminal debut EP Signals, Calls and Marches, 1982’s debut album Vs and some spell binding live performances they split in 1983, in part due to Miller’s increasing problems with tinitus caused by the band’s notoriously loud gigs.

Mission of Burma - The Obliterati

A bunch of solo and side projects, such as Prescott’s band Volcano Suns, followed and then in 2002 Mission of Burma reformed, some twenty years after splitting. But this was no ordinary reunion offering a bunch of forty-somethings the chance to rake over past glories and earn fat pensions. The reformed Mission of Burma, which included Bob Weston from Shellac replacing Swope as manipulator of tapes and producer, emerged as fresh as a bunch of teenagers playing together for the first time, bustling with creativity.

OnOffOn, their first album since Vs, came out in 2004, but it is the band’s third album The Obliterati, which came out two years later, that we are focusing on here. The Obliterati is a mini-history in punk and its influences, showing the band clearly revitalised as individuals by being back together. Across the album Mission of Burma’s past present and future are laid out. Their own UK punk influences, in particularly Wire, are there, as is the music of their 1980s contemporaries such as Husker Du. They’ve also taken on board the music of the bands that they influenced throughout the rest of the 80s and 1990s, such as Pavement, Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices.

The opening three tracks are three of the best openers around. ‘2wice’, ‘Spider’s Web’ and ‘Donna Sumeria’, across all Miller sounds like Husker Du-era Grant Hart at his best. Donna Sumeria is wonderful stuff, slower pace with a great guitar hook that merges into the oddest version of Donna Summer’s disco classic ‘I Feel Love’ you may ever hear.

Across all of The Obliterati’s 14 tracks there something of interest. Take track ’13’ for example, with its violins at the beginning it sounds more like folkster Richard Thompson, before the bass and drums pile in. Another standout is ‘1001 Pleasant Dreams’, the most Husker Du sounding on the album.

The Obliterati is also highly political, recorded in the midst of one of the US’s most absurd ever governments, led by clown-in-chief George W Bush. ‘Man in Decline’ for example offers superb mock Bushisms such as, “continentalistical prophilaxis.”  The track ‘Nancy Reagan’s Head’ leaves the listener in no doubt as to Mission of Burma’s stance on US politics under Bush.

Feedback, violins, cellos, loops, pounding drums and melodic bass  – The Obliterati manages to sound like classic punk but something entirely new altogether.  With such energy it’s hard to fathom that this is a bunch of middle aged men that have been playing music for more than two decades and had only been back together for two years. As an introduction to Mission of Burma The Obliterati is a good place to start, merging the band’s original punk zest with a contemporary feel that gives the great bands they ended up influencing a few more lessons.

by Joe Lepper

For more information visit Mission of Burma’s homepage.