Mission of Burma The Sound The Speed The Light

[Matador; 2009]

Styles: art punk, contemporary indie/alternative rock way before anyone else was doing it
Others: Hüsker Dü, Shellac, The Koala Fires

The aughts have been kind to people like me who hate and fear new musical trends. The (relative) commercial viability of a certain left-of-center aesthetic has given new life to many of the elite rock underground that we poor twenty-somethings were too not-born-yet to see back in the day. Of all the reunions, revivals, and reconfigurations over the past 10 years, Mission of Burma have ranked among the most consistently engaging. With 2004's ONoffON, they strolled back into the contemporary music scene as if they'd never left at all, hardly pausing for a backwards glance ever since.

Those who have been following the band all along won't likely find anything too shocking here. The Sound The Speed The Light contains the same mixture of diffuse slow-burners and frenetic punk outbursts that characterized albums like Vs. and The Obliterati. You'll hear Peter Prescott's martial drum work, Roger Miller's guitar-solos-turned-inside-out, and Bob Weston's warbling tape loops. But while the band may not stake out much in the way of new territory, they do an awful lot in the space they've got. Mission of Burma is still able to shoehorn more about-faces, abrupt halts, and instrumental breakdowns into a two-to-four-minute rock song than any other band I can think of. And they still do it without breaking momentum or calling attention to themselves in a show-offy way.

Album opener “1,2,3, Partyy!” might just be the brightest of the band's career. With its silly wordplay and galloping rhythm, it's the closest they've come to sounding like The Ramones. MoB wander back into angstier territory with “Possessed.” Miller crafts a sharp, syncopated guitar line, but it's Clint Conley's thick, burbling bass that defines the song, giving it a murky, bottom-heavy feel. Easily my favorite track is “Good Cheer.” Miller's heavily reverbed guitar chords drift above Prescott's leaden beat. However, these portents of doom quickly dissolve into a hard-charging verse that unfolds into an even more boisterous chorus, only for the song to come to a screeching, shambling halt before regrouping for a more clamorous variation on the opening. And that's just half the song's two-minute-and-forty-second runtime. The track has the added distinction of featuring one of the band's most curmudgeonly lyrics: “Outta my sight/ It's all good cheer/ Ra-ra-ra, it's great to be here/ It's a glorious phatasm/ Just the other day/ Good good cheer/ Look on the bright side/ Still can't find the sweetness and light/ But I dig the advertisements.”

Thirty years and four (and a half?) albums into their career, Mission of Burma's songwriting chops are as keen and finely honed as ever. And while The Sound The Speed The Light might not push the band beyond the ground they've already covered, it goes a long way towards proving that “more of the same” isn't so bad when it comes from the right outfit.

1. 1,2,3 Partyy!
2. Possession
3. Blunder
4. Forget Yourself
5. After the Rain
6. SSL 83
7. One Day We Will Live There
8. So Fuck It
9. Feed
10. Good Cheer
11. Comes Undone
12. Slow Faucet

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