By Hayley Scott
From the early days of The Moving Parts and 1979′s ‘Peking Spring’, Mission of Burma have always been either a little ahead or behind the curve. They exploded onto the American punk scene at a time when if you weren’t hardcore, you weren’t punk rock. While everyone was holding fast to the old 3 chord punk ethos, Burma opted for music theory and time signature changes (to this day Peter Prescott’s drumming is something to be marvelled at), and even altering their sound with magnetic tape loops with Martin Scope’s assistance. Although somewhat progressive and un-like anything the band have previously done, Unsound still remains unmistakably Mission of Burma by keeping to their trademark ability to transform even the most untamed noise into complex structures.
Unsound is Mission of Burma’s fifth studio album and a continuation of their post-punk legacy. From the off-set the album is everything you would expect from a band whose back catalogue could be comfortably placed amongst a barrage of highly praised and appreciated post-punk classics: it is primitively raw, belligerent and energetic. Although not entirely groundbreaking by today’s standards, this album still manages to exude a certain hint of originality whilst managing to stay within the realms of their post-punk origins without sounding archetypal and self indulgent. Mission of Burma’s progression has not gone unnoticed either, and Unsound appears to be their most rhythmically solid and experimental record from the post-hiatus archive. Focusing a lot on polyrhythms, Unsound is seemingly more imitative of their early work, and in particular ‘Vs’. It therefore creates something that is distinctly habitual post-punk with a slight nostalgic tinge.
Despite Burma leaning slightly out of their comfort zone with Miller and Conley swapping instrumental duties, they still manage to create something that is patently MoB. The most prominent unforeseen development is perhaps Bob Weston dabbling with brass on tracks ‘ADD in Unison’ and ‘What They Tell Me’ in which he plays the trumpet with cacophonic skill, executed in a way that would only be fitting for punk. You expect this to feel a little misapplied or out of place, but instead it appropriately fits around Burma’s style.
Roger Miller provides the signature angular approach to their music with his ability to combine incomprehensible lyrics and jerky, arrhythmic time signatures, while bassist Clint Conley is responsible for the anthemic deliverance of continuously pounding hooks. The opening track ‘Dust Devil’ is Miller getting up his old tricks, by indulging in askew rhythms and brash, raucous guitar wringing. ‘Semi-Pseudo-Sort-Of-Plan’ is Clint Conley at his best as his trembling, reverberated bass gives the song a ferociously prevailing characteristic. In‘This is Hi-Fi’ we are acquainted with a shout-along chorus that is simply made for audience contribution. Each song is infused with these qualities, all maintained by colliding riffs, occasional vocal harmonies and abrasive, memorable choruses.
Like its more recent predecessors, Unsound contains all the important elements of classic Mission of Burma and accomplishes what many bands often fail in doing after a long hiatus. They have not conformed to current music trends, nor have they drastically changed their direction or sound and they have tried to steer away from over-using the nostalgia card, yet they still remain completely relevant within the current music scene as they continue to grow in every viable aspect. Essentially, it is the consistency of quality and their ability to sound as prominent as they did 30 years ago that reigns them supreme.