Simply stated, Mission Of Burma were, and remain, one of the
most important American rock bands of the last 20 years. Strong words,
but over the course of their brief four-year career (1979-1983), the
band delivered the goods in spades. Rykodisc's three-CD re-release
campaign of band's entire Ace of Hearts Records catalog includes the
1981 signals, calls, and marches EP (RCD 10339, with the "Academy
Fight Song" b/w "Max Ernst" 7" single appended), the groundbreaking
1982 VS. LP (RCD 10340, with four bonus tracks not available on the
original album), and the posthumous 1985 live LP THE HORRIBLE TRUTH
ABOUT BURMA (RCD 10341), which documents the band's final tour
(with four previously unreleased bonus tracks). All material has been
impeccably re-mastered (using a 20-bit process) by original producer
Rick Harte, infusing the songs with a previously-unheard clarity
Playing a bracing mix of punk, pop, art rock, and avant-garde experimentation,
the Boston quartets vocal/guitar/bass/drums/tape manipulation line-up
was relentlessly intense and dynamic. As adept at playing strident,
angular blasts as they were at powerful, pretty instrumentals, Mission
Of Burma were integral in laying the foundation for a movement in
postpunk rock which remains vital today.
Formed in February 1979 when guitarist/vocalist Roger Miller and
bassist/vocalist Clint Conley, fresh from the break-up of the
band Moving Parts, decided to join forces with drummer/vocalist
Peter Prescott, who had just parted company with the Molls.
M.O.B. worked as a trio until the summer of 1979, when they drafted
Martin Swope to provide what was commonly seen as the "x- factor"
in their sound. Swope, who had worked with Miller in bands around
their hometown of Ann Arbor, MI, added tape loops and sonic manipulations
(from a visually unobtrusive position behind the soundboard) that
often left audiences wondering how the trio on stage were creating
the sounds that they were hearing.
In June 1980, Burma released their debut 7", "Academy Fight Song,"
on producer Rick Harte's fledgling Ace Of Hearts label. Still regarded
as a high-water mark of a Boston music scene that is rich with history,
the record quickly sold out of its 7,500 copy pressing, unprecedented
for an independent single at that time. With increased touring and
a steadily developing profile, the band returned to the studio
to record the signals, calls, and marches EP. Released in July 1981,
the six songs showed a marked growth from the tightly-wound, blistering
attack of "Academy..." The EP's opener, the Conley-penned anthem "That's
When I Reach For My Revolver," quickly became the band's calling card.
(The song has since been covered by, amongst others, Sugar, Catherine
Wheel, and Moby; other artists who have covered the band's material
include R.E.M., Spinanes, Pegboy, and Soul Asylum.) Concise in its
presentation yet sprawling in scope, the EP ranges from the two-minute
art- punk bullet of "This Is Not A Photograph" to the majestic "All
World Cowboy Romance."
April 1982, the band released their second 7" single, "Trem Two" b/w
"OK/No Way," the aside of which also appeared on the VS. LP, which
followed in October of that year. A dozen furious tracks, the album
met with press raves both at home (" ... aural surprises lurk in the
chordal folds ... martial chants erupt suddenly into harmonies ...
a raw-power dissertation ... a solid, compelling piece of work..."
- The New
and abroad ("...a fascinating, turbulent, and worthy debut full of
slanted timing, trimmings, and a teasing strength and coarseness..."
stage volume exacerbated Miller's tinnitus, the band embarked on a
farewell tour and subsequently disbanded. Their final shows in March
1983 were recorded, and in 1985 Ace Of Hearts compiled and released
THE HORRIBLE TRUTH ABOUT BURMA, a document of otherwise unreleased
songs that fully captured the glorious, roaring sound and bewildering
chaos that characterized the Burma live experience. (A video of the
band's final performance at Boston's Bradford Hotel is available through
In 1988, Rykodisc released an eponymous compilation which gathered
all of signals,..., and VS., selected single tracks, unreleased songs
and two selections from THE HORRIBLE TRUTH... Clocking in at 80' 08"
in duration, the disc stands as the longest-running commercially available
stereo music CD. Taken collectively, these three re-releases far supersede
that (now out-of-print) compilation - they are more comprehensive
and, by virtue of re-mastering, offer better sound quality.
Upon Burma's demise, Miller embarked on a solo career (he has also
recorded in various combos under the monikers Maximum Electric Piano,
No Man/No Man's Band, and most recently The Binary System), as well
as with Swope in Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic. Prescott has led Volcano
Suns, Kustomized, and currently plays guitar and fronts Peer Group.
Conley has kept a low musical profile; he produced and played on Yo
La Tengo's 1986 debut album, Ride The Tiger, and reunited with
Miller in 1996 for a one- off single as Wrong Pipe.
Like such truly seminal artists as the Velvet Underground and the
Stooges, Mission Of Burma's stature and influence continue to grow;
their material remains of a caliber that is rarely paralleled in creativity