It's hard to remember an era when music this affecting and important was out-of-print. God forbid you wanted the classic Mission of Burma stuff on CD back in the day too!
Well, no worries anymore 'cause not only are these 2 releases back in print, they are back in print in fine, fine remastered fashion thanks to the saviors at Fire Records.
I'm gonna sit down and re-assess these 2 albums from Mission of Burma in advance of the band's upcoming D.C. show with John Stabb's History Repeated. Details on that gig with the perpetual Government Issue legend are here.
Now let's dive into the glory of 1981's Signals, Calls, and Marches and 1982's "Vs.", both up for pre-order via Fire Records.
It goes without saying that there is absolutely nothing "dated" about this record. If anything, Signals, Calls, and Marches sounds more vital now than it possibly did 30+ years ago. Shadowing in parallel the sort of angular post-punk that was birthing harDCore in Washington, D.C. in 1981, the music of Boston's Mission of Burma was something organic and entirely at odds with current Top 40 radio -- no kidding, right? -- as well as the bubbling new wave that was reaching these shores from a Human League-overrun United Kingdom. One listen to "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" should have convinced you of that. Listen again and you'll see what I mean.
From the angular No Wave NYC-noise of "Outlaw" to the fervent and impassioned punk of "Devotion" the cuts on this EP practically jump out of the speakers, or headphones, to throttle you. "Fame and Fortune" remains the template for everything that Bob Mould and Grant Hart were trying to do separately, in tandem, and at odds, in the pre-Sire Records Husker Du, while "Academy Fight Song" shows a glorious sense of power in an age when everyone else was reaching for a cheesy synth.
Still, in an era when lines and genres were drawn so clearly, something that bridged punk and fusion like EP closer "All World Cowboy Romance" must have seemed a bitter pill to swallow in 1981. Predating the kind of stuff that Sonic Youth would do at their peak, the near-instrumental serves as a fitting showcase for the power of this band in their early days.
By the time that Mission of Burma recorded their debut full-length record, you'd think that things would have calmed down a bit but as soon as "Secrets" kicks off, you know that that's not the case. Sounding a bit like an American version of the very early Joy Division stuff, or what Rites of Spring would do later in D.C., something like "Secrets" is positively illuminating. That music like this was made in 1982, when Duran Duran were on the rise, is an astonishing thing on some level. That Mission of Burma made this sort of thing without being quite tagged a hardcore band is another revelation to a listener.
"Trem Too" expands in a style that vaguely seems to recall Pere Ubu at their more subdued. The cut veers a bit into something approaching free jazz before ending.
"New Nails" rattles close to the edge of collapse while "Dead Pool" offers a few moments of clarity among the sharp, angular lines of the music.
Rather than refine their sound, Mission of Burma seemed to have loosened up by the time they made "Vs." as tracks like "Mica" indicate. Equal parts punk and what we'd later term post-punk, the cut flails and slashes and coalesces into something loose yet primal. There was really no one making music like this in 1982 besides Mission of Burma.
"The Ballad of Johnny Burma" is pure American punk of the sort that X and only a few others could make in the Eighties while "Einstein's Day" -- the longest cut on this album -- offers the sort of textures that bands like Superchunk would pursue about a decade after this. Very nearly a lovely tune, this one still packs a coiled fury.
The wonderfully named "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" combines a real sense of melody with rage to produce what can only be called now "Proto Fugazi", for lack of a better descriptor. The cut seems so much a template for everything good on the Dischord label during Fugazi's reign that any other term couldn't effectively describe the track. But, hey, hindsight is 20/20. God knows how they wrote about this back in 1982 or so.
Quite simply, these are 2 absolutely essential albums you must have in your collection. To understand the course of postpunk, particularly in America, you have to hear the songs contained on Signals, Calls, and Marches and to marvel again at how adventurous a band could be in the wasteland of the early Eighties, spin "Vs." again. Both records sound fabulous and both are released via Fire Records in a matter of weeks.
You can and should pre-order both now, frankly.