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Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls, And Marches; Vs.; The Horrible Truth About Burma

Mission of Burma: Signals, Calls, And Marches; Vs.; The Horrible Truth About Burma

Release Date:2008

By Jess Harvell | Posted 4/9/2008

The four men of Mission Of Burma looked like nice, handsome college kids from Boston with combed hair and tucked-in, day-job button-downs. Punk at home and abroad jolted them out of the 9 to 5 and onstage, but what Burma took from the genre was three-chord conciseness rather than styling tips, never hiding its art-rock roots. Burma could inspire a circle pit; it could also drift out the kind of dreamy reverb that shoegaze would turn into a movement almost a decade later.

Formed in 1979, Burma was underground history by 1983; the band re-formed in 2002, fierce as ever, just in case you think punk reunions are only good for mortified rubbernecking. Now 21st-century label home Matador has stepped up to repackage the group's out-of-print early catalog, coming up with the kind of wonder a glutted reissue market sees all too rarely.

Burma announced its difference in 1980 with the amazing "Academy Fight Song," a midtempo single that tensely sets the pretty-but-pounding template for the band's best work. That song is collected on Signals, Calls, and Marches, on which a formative Burma oscillates between the bass-heavy bounce of the early Buzzcocks and revving the two-note hypno-motor of the American avant-garage of the Velvet Underground. "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" is the charge of platonic punk at its finest; the final minutes of "All World Cowboy Romance" dissolve that tense energy into a cloud of feedback and cymbal.

1982's Vs. was Burma's lone studio full-length before initially dissolving. While "The Ballad of Johnny Burma," "New Nails," and "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" certainly all kick like a spasmodic stage diver, the album soars highest when Roger Miller's guitar abandons fist-shaped chords for something more mournful on tunes such as "Trem Two" and "Mica"; offstage member Martin Swope mixes in effects and pre-sampler samples to thicken the already heavy atmosphere. And if Burma never really hit hardcore's velocity, Vs.'s ringing arpeggios, sad-eyed melodies, and plaintive delivery all point to the sort of post-hardcore the Washington Beltway would soon bequeath to VFW halls 'round the world.

It was around the same time, in fact, that the great-sounding live slab The Horrible Truth About Burma finally dropped onto a Reagan- and MTV-addled 1985. Horrible Truth was more ragged than the records fans knew and stuffed with protopunk covers, including a savage turn at the Stooges' teen-angst anthem "1970" just in case you doubted the bookish members' juvenile-delinquent credentials. A simmering take on the shimmering instrumental "Tremolo" showed the band hadn't forsaken the effects-soaked beauty it could build up in-studio; a snarling sprint through rave-up "Dumbells" signaled Burma wasn't bound to it, either.

The remastering does all you can ask in making the records louder, heavier, and cleaner-in-the-good-way than the previous CD editions; Swope's tape-loop tapestry of disembodied voices lends a fresh melancholy to Vs.'s "Dead Pool" now that you can actually hear it unfurling in the background.

The bonus live DVDs included with each disc vary in quality, but all of them capture a group that sometimes furiously, sometimes implacably held the line between string-snapping physicality and wistful introspection.

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