Mission Of Burma - Biography
Boston-based band Mission of Burma is undoubtedly one of America’s best post-punk groups. Angular and obtuse yet melodically accessible, the quartet crafted a nervy, shifting and at times brutal sonic attack that was extremely visceral. The songs are terse and taut, but textured with processed guitar feedback and tape manipulation and often extend into mesmerizing, controlled rhythmic jams. The band’s early output, albeit small, remains as some of the most original and inspired post-punk ever recorded.
Formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1979, Mission of Burma initially consisted of guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, and drummer Peter Prescott. Miller and Conley had previously played in a group called Moving Parts. After that band dissolved in 1978 the duo stayed together, auditioning several drummers before recruiting ex-Molls member Prescott. The trio made its debut on April 1, 1979 at The Modern Theater. After writing and performing as a trio, Miller, who is a long-standing fan of experimental and avant-garde music of artists like John Cage and Sun Ra, decided that another element would benefit the band’s sound. He asked sound engineer and tape manipulator Martin Swope to join the band.
Performing around Boston and dedicated local radio support had gotten the band some recognition before it released any music. By 1981 Mission of Burma had signed with the Boston label Ace of Hearts and released its first single, the now legendary Academy Fight Song / Max Ernst. Both tracks are explosive blasts of angular dynamics and “Academy Fight Song” remains one of the best punk songs ever.
That same year brought the Signals, Calls, And Marches EP. Six songs of brilliant guitar bombast, odd chord structures, shifting tempos and taut dynamics, the release deftly welds punk’s explosive anger with intelligent lyrics and avant-garde musical ideas. The art-rock elements, Miller’s streams of feedback and Swope’s tape effects, blended perfectly with the raw power of classics like “This Is Not A Photograph” and “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.” With this excellent debut, Mission of Burma set forth its aesthetic perfectly.
The EP was selling well and the band began receiving major label attention. Electing to remain on their small label, Mission of Burma released their first proper full-length, Vs., in 1982. Simply put, the record is sheer genius and marked the group to become one of America’s most interesting bands. Jumping off from the debut EP, Vs. focuses the quartet’s sound into succinct blasts of controlled fury. These songs are filled with drama and tension, with Miller’s guitar hammering and snaking its way across Conley and Prescott’s jittery tempo shifts and stop-on-a-dime pauses. “Trem Two,” “Einstein’s Day” and the sonic sucker punch of “Fun World” are untouchable, archetypal post-punk songs.
The brilliance of these two releases makes it that much harder to stomach the news that, due to Miller’s sever tinnitus from the band’s intensely loud live shows, the group decided to split in 1983. The Horrible Truth About Burma, a document of live performances, was released in 1985. Miller and Swope continued to work together as Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic, a project that focused on quiet textural pieces that incorporate elements of ambient and modern classical music. Miller left this group in the late ‘80s and released solo records and music for various films. Prescott formed the excellent Volcano Suns and later Kustomized and The Peer Group. Conley produced the first Yo La Tengo record and then dropped out of music altogether to work as a television producer. He returned to music in 2001 with the band Consonant.
Surprisingly Mission of Burma reunited in 2002. Swope is not featured in the current lineup. The band instead asked indie producer, engineer extraordinaire, and ex-Volcano Suns member Bob Weston to take Swope’s roll as sonic manipulator. The newly minted group recorded the excellent ONoffON which was released by indie giant Matador Records in 2004. 2006 brought the equally amazing The Obliterati and in 2009 The Sound The Speed The Light was released. The band continues to perform live.