Friday, December 2, 2011

Mission of Burma

Warning to all!  This is a long post.  I know a lot of you don't like the long reads so I apologize in advance. Regardless, I'd like to finish up the week by turning back the clock to 1981, a time when music was experiencing a unique and dramatic cultural shift.  The movement I'm talking about is punk; an incredibly fascinating and important era in music's timeline, and one that is usually associated with mohawks, leather jackets, and violence.  Although this is partially true, it's important to keep in mind that punk was, in every sense of the word, a culture, a driving force that had more substance to it than a bunch of kids doing drugs and causing trouble (a fact largely misunderstood).  So allow me to set the scene before I bore you; by the late 1970s the first wave of punkers like the Ramones and The Clash had established themselves in the mainstream, eventually giving way to art-punk bands like Gang of Four and Joy Division.  This coincided with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, which ushered in a rigid and boring political system much to the disdain of America's teens, who felt stifled by Reagan's bland conservatism. What's a better way to fight back than rebel with loud and obnoxious music to separate the dull, narrow-minded older generation from the energetic youth?  Black Flag pushed the issue when they pioneered the second wave of punk, which started to gain steam around 1981.  They became the first hardcore band to show that you didn't need a major record label to get your sound on vinyl and gain a following.  Instead, they just did everything like marketing and pressing themselves, which in it's own way is a form of lashing back at the society that was pissing them off.  Adolescents who felt the same angst they did bought into the records, and other bands trying to spread their material saw they had a chance at success being self-sufficient while not giving into "the man". People began to coalesce around these ideals, forming a type of cult in which they could all unleash their frustration as a unit.  Black Flag had just paved the way for underground punk.  Culture.

Boston's Mission of Burma was involved in this underground structure early on, forming in 1979.  Since this whole "post-punk" (referring to the second punk wave) thing was new, Burma never got the support system that many other indie bands had access to later in the decade.  The band did have three things going for them though; the hometown Boston locals loved them, all members were great with the press, and they put on insane live shows.  Still, the general populous wasn't quite ready to accept Burma's originality. Experimenting between a mix of artsy-pop and punk, they were being overshadowed by the popularity of hardcore, which garnered most of the attention.  Moreover, without proper distribution it was difficult for the band to expand beyond Boston.  To put it into perspective, when they toured outside of the city as little as 2 or 3 people would show up at times.  In 1981 they recorded their Signals, Calls, and Marches EP debut, a release that attempted to deliver a more universally pleasing sound.  Later in time its mastery would be fully appreciated, but at it's release date it could only be considered a moderate success.  The pattern of taut yet subdued verses leading into an explosive sound for the chorus in the opener "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" would be met with much more recognition for The Pixies, who we all know were the inspiration for Nirvana and one of the most acclaimed songs of all-time, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"....they were just a few years too early.  And when Burma sent Signals, Calls, and Marches to a major label, they responded with a note that promptly rejected them. One of post-punk's landmark EPs had just been passed up.  Luckily in the present day we can celebrate the EP's achievements, a collection of unconventional tracks that exhibited Mission of Burma's smoother personality and helped foster punk's growing fan base. Ok you can breathe now! This post is finally over.  Check out the grand instrumental "All World Cowboy Romance" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" below.

All World Cowboy Romance

That's When I Reach For My Revolver

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