After ten years and four albums, it no longer seems right to call Mission of Burma's current existence a "reunion." Disbanded in 1983, they were always more than a punk band, anyway, despite their following in the Boston hardcore scene. Their 2002 reformation has already produced four times as many full-lengths as their original run, with their latest – Unsound – to be released on July 10th by Fire Records.
"The gene was switched back on," says bassist Clint Conley, who'd removed himself from music entirely for nearly two decades before a sudden writing spurt in 2001, when he formed the band Consonant. "The idea of doing Burma again had come up a few times, but it never seemed the right thing to do because I wasn't doing the music thing. [Then] I was in the middle of this explosion, so it seemed like, 'Sure, why not?'"
Guitarist Roger Miller, for one, had never stopped. A trained musician with a number of rotating ensembles, including the silent film-scoring Alloy Orchestra, he will likewise release a solo seven-inch this summer featuring a piece for prepared guitar. "For every one of my songs, there are pages and pages of notes," he laughs, "which we immediately discard."
For their first reunion shows, each member brought a single new song with him. Bookings kept coming, as did new songs. Slipping back into form easily, with Shellac's Bob Weston replacing loopmaster and producer Martin Swope, Mission of Burma's new phase has lately become a question of evolution.
"Now I'm in one of the fallow periods, which last time lasted 15-20 years," admits Conley. "It's like one of those insect plagues that comes every decade or so." Still, Conley – who authored the band's canonical single, "Academy Fight Song" – is represented by a trio of new songs on Unsound, including "Second Television," which soars over Weston's chattering loops. Drummer Peter Prescott – whose post-Burma outfit, Volcano Sons, also featured Weston – contributed three as well.
"Blood, Sweat and Burma," Conley cracks of two songs with trumpet arrangements by Miller. They appear, played by Miller and Weston, in the churning waves of "ADD in Unison," the album's propulsive multi-part centerpiece. "I wanted to do something that went to a lot of different territories. We don't do it just to be fancy-pants," Miller says. "There's a reason it changes and morphs. It makes an interesting variation on song structure and how a rock band sounds."
A perpetual composer, Miller has already written a handful of new songs that he hopes to have in shape by the time the band hits the road for shows in August and September. But his career as a silent film scorer doesn't mean his writing for Mission of Burma has become staid or un-punk. "Being pissed off is really helpful to me," he notes. "Stuff just explodes." He remembers falling sick while doing soundtrack work a few years ago, then blowing off steam by recording an acoustic improv session, out of which sprang "Dust Devil," Unsound's first single, and a handful of songs he recently taught to Conley and Prescott – "Totally different than the songs that ended up on Unsound," he says.
"It's a lot easier in so many ways," assesses Conley of the band's second-round success. "Aesthetically, [playing live] used to be like an argument, always trying to prove something. There's less of that. We're gratified to be recognized to whatever extent we are. We sort of know where we are in the musical universe. We seem have to secured some tiny niche, and that's just fine with us."
"But I think it's sort of the same as it ever was for us," he adds. "In a lot of ways, we feel as disconnected from the world around us as we ever did, Eighties or Aughts. When we look around and see what's popular, even in the quote-unquote 'indie-verse,' we're just confused as hell. It's a weird world out there."
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