Indie rock icons Mission of Burma are back in 2012 with their fourth post-reunion album, Unsound.
Context matters in music. The relationship between the facts of album (who made it, where, when, etc.) and its sound will always affect the experience of listening to it. This makes Unsound a strange case, because (given the W5 of its creation) its sound seems both counterintuitive and out-of-time. What I mean by this is: The album sounds far more like it was recorded by young guys in 1993 than by fifty-four year-olds in 2012.
As a result of the band’s unusual career trajectory — a five year initial run, followed by a near-twenty year layoff, followed by a reunion now in year eight — MoB can sound sometimes, bizarrely, as though they are borrowing tricks from the very alternative bands their original albums helped inspire. The album’s ramshackle lo-fi vibe feels like a page out of Slanted and Enchanted’s book. The eerie background oohs on Clinton Conley’s “Semi-Psuedo-Sort-of-Plan” and “7′s” seem cribbed from Sonic Youth (as does the guitar on Peter Prescott’s “Part the Sea”). The dirty abrasiveness of the production is reminiscent of Jesus Lizard and others. And Conley’s “Second Television” — what I guess can charitably be called the album’s “single” — is such a Guided by Voices song it even sounds like Robert Pollard is singing sometimes.
This is not to suggest the album is tired or middling. It’s actually pretty goddamned awesome. The songs are tight and explosive, at times punishing. They go in unexpected directions and are filled with layers of noise that will reward re-listens. The performances are loose and dynamic, charged with passion and brattiness (this contributes to the contextual weirdness I mentioned at the top, but for real, I hope I’m this spry when I’m almost sixty). It is a testament to the deep talents of the band that they are still creating music this gripping at this stage of their career (especially considering that most bands treat reunions as little more than extended victory laps). Unsound is well worth your time — even if your brain can’t decide where to file it.
Tags: mission of burma, Mission of Burma - Unsound album review, tadhg ferry