Mission of Burma - The Obliterati (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Mission of Burma

The Obliterati (2006)


Over the past few years, the "art-punk" triumverate of Wire, Gang of Four and Mission of Burma reunited after lengthy absences. Wire regrouped after a ten-year absence in 2003 and Gang of Four returned after a decade just last year, each bringing reissues, tours, retrospectives and the occaisonal re-recorded track. Mission of Burma, however, took a different approach, returning in 2004 with a triumphant new recording, OnOffOn. It was especially striking because the band seemed to have lost almost none of their sound or energy after a two decade absence.

The album was a spectacular return, and retained that curious mixture of experimental angularity and MC5-influenced punk rock, but it barely compares to The Obliterati. While OnOffOn assembled songs written over the band's lengthy hiatus -- and sounded like it -- The Obliterati is as cohesive as their earlier classic, Vs., and reigns among their best. While there are no instantly memorable tracks like "Academy Fight Song, " Obliterati is rapt with tracks that plumb unseen depths and reward repeated listens.

"2wice" is relentlessly aggressive, all pounding drums and guitars; it's such a brilliant opener that it could have upended a weaker selection of songs. The most obvious comparison is Fugazi, not just in the sound itself, but in the sheer mastery of sound and dynamics. Fugazi is certainly an apt reference point, even as they were undoubtedly influenced by Burma; wildly experimental, but still firmly footed in the language of classic punk, with vocals that bounce between Ian ("Birthday") and Guy ("The Mute Speaks Out").

Later songs are no less impressive than "2wice" albeit less aggressive; "13" incorporates strings while maintaining an atmosphere of dirty ambience. "Nancy Reagan's Head" is bizarrely catchy with a vocal and guitar line that swirl around each other sounding first harmonized than discordant. "Period" is straight-up angular punk rock that would make Hüsker Dü proud.

Despite the wonderful performances, it's unfortunate to have to have to admit that the recording quality isn't quite as stellar as the songwriting. A raw recording would befit Burma, but unfortunately this one is a tad muddy and some of the more esoteric sounds are buried underneath the small dynamic range. Considering the effort that was put into every note on this record, it's disappointing to strain to hear all of it.

The weaker production aside, Mission of Burma have assembled a strong, cohesive album that is almost unbelievably progressive for a band nearly thirty years after their debut. Fans of angular and experimental punk like Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Hüsker Dü and Wire will find much to love about The Obliterati as will fans of creative, forward-looking music.