Mission of Burma – Unsound

My expectations for Mission of Burma’s Unsound were uncharacteristically tempered. It follows the storied Boston quartet’s first true misstep (2009’s spotty The Sound, the Speed, the Light) and in the interim they cut ties with the label run by their longest and most fervent champion – surely not a positive indicator. Unsound opens like a band looking to regain its footing – or perhaps one cleaning its closet – running through a track apiece by its three core members, each playing to type: guitarist Roger Miller’s jagged punk charge, Clint Conley’s understated anthems underpinned by melodic bass hooks, Peter Prescott’s thumping 4/4 gang chants. Each is fine, and could easily be mistaken for an outtake from Burma’s mid-80s sessions. But they also beg the question: for a band with such a rich catalog, how many more variations do we need?

Then the action starts, as if someone poured a jug of rejuvenating elixir into the crypt and the lid burst open. The changes begin subtly on “This is Hi-Fi,” credited to Miller but which sounds like a coming out party for unseen fourth member Bob Weston with its heady tape manipulations. Burma reportedly engaged in instrument swapping and more studio woodshedding than their usual recording approach; they don’t reveal song-by-song credits, but the creative spark grows as the album progresses and the players’ three distinct songwriting personalities develop newfound synergies, while remaining the unmistakable work of this band. On paper the occasional introduction of Weston’s trumpet to the mix seems the biggest curveball, but it’s surprisingly tuneful and Conley’s “Reaper”-like cowbell on the downright hummable “Second Television” proves the bigger shocker. By the back-end salvo of Miller’s epic “ADD in Unison” and Conley’s surging “7s” Mission of Burma has pulled off the most impressive late career reboot in memory. Unsound both demands and deserves your attention.

Mission of Burma