Mission of Burma’s back; Conley presents Consonant
Punk rock’s shadow war with pop music and the establishment during its late 70s/early 80s heyday fostered numerous incarnations of aggressive, agenda-supported guitar music. On the east coast, a particularly volatile, intellectual, and creative strain developed groups who would make a punk rock with just as much noise and grind as the kids in Philly and Detroit, but with brains and skinnier hips to boot. Groups like The Feelies and The Talking Heads (and later Galaxie 500 and The Pixies) would spend their careers – both long and short – making music that amazed and influenced countless bands, both contemporary and current. On the “big influence” side of this coin, perhaps no other proto punk pioneer ranks higher in the hearts and minds of many than Boston’s Mission of Burma.
In what is so often the case, Burma left only a brief recorded testament to its smart, sandpaper sound. After four years, a few EPs, and only one proper studio album, Mission of Burma conceded to guitarist Roger Miller’s chronic tinnitus; the group’s famously explosive volume had forced him to wear shooters’ ear protection during their farewell tour. Its concise recorded output may have contributed to Mission of Burma’s adoration. But don’t discount the music. As a trio full of pounding rhythm, agitated vocals and Miller’s corrosive guitar, the band still found space to explore melody and feeling. Part of this was ambience: soundman and fourth member Martin Swope contributed tape loops that often added an intangible layer of ethereal noise into Burma’s punk rock sediment. Ryko’s re-release of the original Ace of Hearts recordings for the Signals, Calls & Marches EP is the perfect Mission of Burma time capsule. Including as it does the 1980 7″ single “Academy Fight Song/Max Ernst,” the retrospective re-tells the story of a band that found the sonic heart of punk rock, cut it out from under the rib cage, and plugged it into an amplifier.
This past month, Mission of Burma participated in the UK All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, curated by Shellac, as did Consonant, Burma bassist/vocalist Clint Conley’s new band, featuring Chris Brokaw of Come on guitar, and drummer Matt Kadane, of spectacularly defunct Texans Bedhead. Consonant revisits the literate, slightly aloof vocals of Conley’s old band, while his new one is given an invitation to re-invent a hero’s sound. Brokaw’s guitar threads its way between the ear-catching vocals, which at times contain somewhat jarring imagery surrounding the topics of love and rendered need. Bob Weston, Shellac bassist and sound engineer extraordinaire, contributes electronics to the Consonant album, as he did during Burma’s recent reunion shows at ATP and in New York and Boston. (Swope, now living in Hawaii, chose not to participate in the reunion, but hand-picked Weston as his replacement.) All in all, the new Consonant material works on two levels. First, it stands alone as a cool record by musicians who’ve all cut their teeth in influential groups. But second – and what’s maybe more interesting – is the way that Mission of Burma’s signature version of east coast punk ideology once again roars to life. The fact that Burma itself has recently done the same thing only drives home the point.
Consonant did a few east coast dates with Luna, but there is no full US tour currently scheduled. Visit Fenway Recordings for further album information.