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Mission of Burma - The Sound The Speed The Light

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Artist: Mission of Burma

Album: The Sound The Speed The Light

Label: Matador

Review date: Oct. 6, 2009

Over the last seven years, Mission of Burma has been making the gradual transition from resuscitated post-punk icon to regular working band. You can see it in the way the three post-reunion albums have been received. OnOffOn was considered remarkable because it existed at all, after a 20-year silence when band members Roger Miller, Clint Conley and Peter Prescott didn’t even talk to each other. Two years later, Obliterati surprised people because it was on a par with early-1980s landmarks Vs. and the Signals, Calls and Marches EP. And now, seven years into an unexpected second run, The Sound The Speed The Light is as good as Obliterati. It’s just that this time no one is very worked up about it. Another solid Burma album – oh yeah, stop the presses.

All of which is a shame, because Mission of Burma is much better now than they were seven years ago. All three songwriters have honed their distinctive styles. Prescott, whose bellicose punk anthems gave the reconfigured band a much needed boost of humor (remember “The Enthusiast”’s “Are you high?”, said to be directed at people who asked if the band would ever reunite?), is back with fiercer, more aggressive tunes – “Blunder” at the front end, “One Day We Will Live There,” in the middle, and “Good Cheer” near the rear. Conley, the wordsmith, plays with puns in “1,2,3 Partyy!” (“Drink only when drunken to”) and luxuriates in romantic fuzz in “Feed” (with Consonant and sometime Burma co-lyricist Holly Anderson). And Miller, whose densely packed, elegantly structured tunes unfold like Escher puzzles, has another ferocious conundrum in “Possession,” the disc’s best, most uncompromising song. The slower songs continue to be memorable, mesmerizing even in the case of “Forget Yourself,” with its shimmering, gauzy hazes of guitar and pounding crescendos of drums. The harder, punk-leaning songs are just as rowdy, just as belligerent, just as full of mischief as in the “Johnny Burma” days – for proof, just turn to this album’s “So Fuck It.” What’s missing from the old days is the self-deprecation, the sense that Mission of Burma 2.0 is a bit of a lark. What’s there in its place, though, is a new intensity and focus. Even at their goofiest (really, “1, 2, 3 Partyy!”?), you get the feeling that no one is wondering whether they belong in the studio, on the stage, in the college radio playlists anymore.

Being reborn, obviously, is good copy. You don’t read much about the phoenix, for instance, in his years between flame-outs, and Jesus was just an itinerant preacher before he came out of the cave. Burma’s return was a great story, a wonderful way to bring people in, especially if they’d missed the first round. But coming back is ultimately less challenging and less interesting than what Mission of Burma is doing now – keeping on, getting better, refining strengths and testing weaknesses. The Sound The Speed The Light is the sound of a band working at its craft, focusing its energy and coming up with a hard-won triumph. It’s more of the same from a band that has never given us anything but quality, and that’s nothing to dismiss.

By Jennifer Kelly

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