Mission of Burma CD review [Matador]

Music Reviews
Mission of Burma CD review [Matador]
May 4, 2004, 04:35


The basis of the classic Mission of Burma oeuvre is a montage of unlikely, disparate elements that yield a highly effective and unmistakable end result. Most apparent is the somewhat dissonant, kind of ambiguous and decisively raucous electric guitar, which sculpts abstract, cantilevered structures throughout. This is alternately anchored or opposed by sturdy, hooky bass lines and careening drums. Perhaps the most crucial ingredient is the heavenly, sumptuously melodic lead vocals of Roger Miller and Clint Conley respectively. It was a perfect mixture of experimental and classic, each acting as the ideal leavening for the other; then and now. Though Mission of Burma was never accepted by the punk scene of their day—too arty! too old!—their most ardent acolytes like Hüsker Dü, Rifle Sport and countless others would rewrite the rules of punk to embrace innovation and mellifluence in the same way Mission of Burma had done it.

With On Off On, they have not tampered with a winning formula. In fact this could have followed Vs. some 21 years ago… or preceded it. Up to now fans have had only one proper full-length studio album (live releases and various collections of demos notwithstanding) so in this case the “more of the same “ aspect is not especially a drawback. Moreover, there are two songs on On Off On that would make this an essential purchase even if MOB had been as prolific as the Ramones.

“Absent” uses typical MOB composing and arrangement conceits but with a rhythm section replaced by a cello and the gentle serpentine grace these underpinnings lead to transforms the tracks in a novel and enthralling way.

Then there's Roger Miller's “Falling.” When I realized the lyrics were written from the perspective of a person jumping off a World Trade Tower on 9/11, I was at first appalled, but certainly galvanized to pay close attention to every last word. Then I noticed that Miller's lines describe in detail the actual sensation of sailing earthward: the feel of air passing over you; the blurring of images flying past; the awful growing focus on the point of impact. It captures that moment when the realization dawns that one's future is finite and rushing to meet you at hideous speed. Next comes the sense of acceptance, of release and relief. Then time fractionalizes and each second experienced becomes discreet and expansive. Miller portrays this person being embraced by sensations of welcoming, reassurance. It is very poetic, spiritual, dignified and beautiful and not one whit less tragic for all that. You may quibble with the metaphysics implied and if you did have a loved one who was one of the victims, this probably will strike a raw spot. But it unquestionably makes those persons people again, individuals whose thoughts and feelings in their last horrific moments are real and alive. It rescues them from the abstractions of “World Trade Center Victim” or “9/11” or “3500 dead” or any of the other pat phrases by which we distance ourselves with the horrible reality of that day and the experiences of those who were killed. “Falling” is the profoundest of art and has approached the terrible profundity of its subject. I think anyone who didn't lose someone on that sad day needs to hear this at least once. [Matador]

-Howard Wuelfing

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