In a delicious bit of irony, Mission Of Burma was almost dismantled by the very force that gave it life: noise. Shortly after 1982’s Vs. became the crown jewel of post-punk, the Boston band called it quits due to frontman Roger Miller’s tinnitus. And then, in 2002, they came back, in an incarnation even louder and more ferocious than before. Even during their ’00s days, Mission Of Burma perfected the art of the bass drop long before Skrillex brought the term into the American lexicon; one listen to “Spider’s Web,” off of 2006’s The Obliterati, is sufficient to experience that beautiful noise.
Miller and company have wisely chosen to stick to their winning formula of churning, hook-laden rock on their latest LP, Unsound. You want your pogoing garage? Look no further than “Dust Devil” or “Part The Sea.” Bassist Clint Conley and drummer Peter Prescott haven’t lost a bit of their percussive prowess, pivoting between tempos with playful ease. As always, Miller’s frenzied, drill-sarge bark helps to center all the noise—deadpanning while screaming guitars and funky bass duke it out on “Fell –> H2O” or sardonically insisting “This is hi-fi!”—through, of course, the muffled din of a lo-fi speaker.
Shellac’s Bob Weston is back on tape manipulation duties, once again proving that having a tape guy as a band member is a great idea. Through his balanced production, Unsound‘s two great assets—irresistible hooks and burly noise—combine rather than compete. “Second Television” is the album’s best example of this nuanced mixing, with equal measures of shoegaze-y guitar pop and unbridled studio noise, the barely audible shouts in the background serving as a reminder of the raw, untempered strengths of the band.
Prescott recently spoke in press material of Mission Of Burma as “a four-headed hydra, trying to create unity without canceling or censoring each head.” The mythological simile certainly sticks from a musical standpoint: For all of their individual, conflicting quirks, Miller et al. operate like some strange musical beast, spitting out hooks and devouring them with brute force. The other key bit about the hydra, however, is its immortality: As poor Hercules found out, the only way to kill the damn thing is to get all four heads with one swipe. Tinnitus couldn’t slay these guys, nor could the skeptics. And if Unsound is any indicator, the beast isn’t even close to bowing out. If anything, it’s just getting started.