21 Songs

The original incarnation Mission of Burma existed as a group for a mere four years

“whose cumulative recorded achievement amounted to 21 songs that few people heard.”

Recording for the tiny independent Boston label, Ace of Hearts, the group, between 1979 and 1983, released two singles, one 6 song mini album, Signals, Calls and Marches, and one full length album, Vs., and yet, even with such a small body of work in the intervening two decades since the bands breakup their reputation has grown to legendary proportions.

Part of the reason for that growth is that contemporary music critics now recognize that their music marked a pivotal turning point in American independent music, acting as the bridge between punk and post-punk music.

Perhaps a better reason for the growth in their reputation maybe found in the bands that have cited them as a major influence, bands that include;

“Nirvana, Superchunk, Jawbox, The Grifters, R.E.M. (who regularly covered “Academy Fight Song” on their Green tour), Sonic Youth, Drive Like Jehu, Throwing Muses, Yo La Tengo, Fugazi, Pixies, Sugar, Guided by Voices, Catherine Wheel, Graham Coxon, Pegboy and Moby – the last four of which have covered Conley’s “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.”

Mission of Burma formed in February 1979 with the breakup of the Boston group Moving Targets. That group included guitarist/vocalist Miller and bassist/vocalist Clint Conley. Adding drummer/vocalist Peter Prescott (ex-Molls) they played as a trio until the summer of 1979 when Martin Swope (tape manipulator/sound engineer) joined them.

Swope was the “x- factor” in the groups sound, adding tape loops and sonic manipulations from behind the soundboard,

“that often left audiences wondering how the trio on stage were creating the sounds that they were hearing.”

Their debut single, “Academy Fight Song,” was released on producer Rick Harte’s fledgling Ace Of Hearts label in June of 1980 and quickly sold out its 7,500-copy pressing, which was unheard of for any indie record at the time.

Support from local music magazine Boston Rock and Boston college radio station WMBR combined with increased touring and a steadily developing profile lead the group back 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.”

By the end of the year the initial pressing of 10,000 copies had completely sold out.

1982 saw the band recording their second single, “Trem Two”/”OK/”No Way,” the a-side also appearing on the full-length Vs . which was released that October.

With its dozen furious tracks, and a bracing mix of punk, pop, art rock, and avant-garde experimentation Vs.

“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 York Times), and abroad (“…a fascinating, turbulent, and worthy debut full of slanted timing, trimmings, and a teasing strength and coarseness…” – Sounds, UK).”

Roger Miller was plaqued by tinnitus even before moving to Boston, but by 1983, cheifly due to their notoriously loud live performances, it worsened to the point that he decided to leave the band and

“during their farewell tour, he took to augmenting his usual small foam earplugs with rifle-range earphones onstage.”

The Horrible Truth About Burma, released in 1985, captures their final shows in March of 1983 including

“one more largely disastrous show in the urban no-man’s land known as Staten Island, opening for Public Image Ltd., who refused to let Burma use the P.A. and rushed them off the stage.”

And then, like an aural puff of smoke, they were gone.

Miller and his bandmates never really stopped; they just stopped being Mission of Burma. Under his own name and also recording as No Man Miller has released several albums of music played on guitar and treated piano. He’s also recorded with avant-garde groups Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, the Alloy Orchestra and the Wrong Pipe.

Peter Prescott has lead the punk-derived bands, Volcano Suns, Kustomized and Peer Group.

Martin Swope has performed with Miller in Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, but later moved to Hawaii and is apparently out of music entirely, while Conley produced and played on Yo La Tengo’s 1986 debut album, Ride The Tiger. He re-united with Miller in 1996 for a one- off single as Wrong Pipe, and in 2001 formed the group Consonant with Chris Brokaw (Come, The New Year).

The year 2002 found the group reuniting and playing reunion shows. Bob Weston of Shellac (ex-Volcano Suns) replaced the awol Martin Swope at the mixing board and tape manipulation. During encores he joins the band on stage playing bass while Conley switches to second guitar.

The group’s sophomore full length, ONoffON, produced by Bob Weston in conjunction with Rick Harte and the band, was released by Matador Records in May 2004. The album would finish 90th in the 2004 Village Voice Jazz & Pop critic’s poll.

The group’s third full length, The Obliterati, produced once again by Weston, and released by Matador in May of 2006, “was named as the 33rd best record of 2006 by Pitchfork Media, and placed 50th in the 2006 Village Voice Jazz & Pop poll.

And while the band’s live repertoire contains half a dozen new songs don’t expect this band to last forever because

“in a September 2008 interview with L.A. RECORD, Prescott explained that the sheer physical exertion involved in performing Mission of Burma songs meant that the band could only play together for a “couple more years at most.”

Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic originally began as a side project for Roger Miller and Martin Swope. With the addition of Rick Scott and former Moving Targets bandmate Erik Lindgren they released their self titled ep in 1983. When Burma finally dissolved late in 1983 Birdsongs became a full time band. The original lineup went on to release the full-length Magnetic Flip in 1985 and an EP, Beat of the Mesozoic, in 1986.

In 1988 Miller left the group and was replaced by Ken Field on saxophone, keyboards, and percussion. That lineup would release Pyroclastics in 1992 and Faultline in 1995. After Swope left the group he was replaced by guitarist Michael Bierylo, with this lineup releasing Dancing on A’A.

Sonic Geology compiles 18 tracks from Birdsongs of the Mesozoic first three releases. With its mix of rock, punk, classical, minimalism, and free-form music; and showing the clear influences of modern classical music giants like Stravinsky and Steve Reich, Frank Zappa and Raymond Scott this is chamber music that at times just flat out rocks.

MISSION OF BURMA DISCOGRAPHY

Singles

“Academy Fight Song” (7″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1980
“Trem Two / Okay/No Way” (7″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1981
“Active In The Yard” Mission Of Burma/Spore (7″ Split) (Taang! Records) 1994
“Dirt / Falling” (7″) (Matador) 2004

EPs and Full-Length

Signals, Calls, And Marches (12″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1981
Vs.
(LP) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1982
The Horrible Truth About Burma (LP) (New Rose, Ace Of Hearts) 1985
Forget
(CD, Cass, LP) (Taang! Records) 1987
Mission Of Burma (12″) (Taang! Records) 1988
Mission Of Burma
(2xLP, CD, Cass) (Rykodisc) 1988
Let There Be Burma (2xLP) (Emergo, Taang!) 1990
Peking Spring
(CD) (Taang! Records) 1993
Signals, Calls, And Marches (CD, EP) (Rykodisc) 1997
The Horrible Truth About Burma (CD) (Rykodisc) 1997
Vs. (CD) (Rykodisc) 1997
A Gun to the Head: A Selection from the Ace of Hearts Era (CD) (Rykodisc) 2004
Four Hands EP (CD, EP) (Matador) 2004
ONoffON (2xLP, CD, SACD) (Matador) 2004
2wice (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Birthday (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Careening With Conviction (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Let Yourself Go (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Man In Decline (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Nancy Reagan’s Head (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Period (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
Spider’s Web (12″, S/Sided) (Matador) 2006
The Obliterati (2xLP, CD) (Matador) 2006
Signals, Calls, And Marches The Definitive Edition – (2xLP, 2xCD) (Matador) 2008
Vs. The Definitive Edition (2xLP, 2xCD) (Matador) 2008
The Horrible Truth About Burma – The Definitive Edition (2xLP, 2xCD) (Matador) 2008
Accomplished: The Best of Mission of Burma (CD)

Tracks Appear On:

“Mika” Steal This Disc (CD) (Rykodisc) 1991
“That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” DIY: Mass. Ave. – The Boston Scene (1975-83) (CD) (Rhino) 1993
“That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” Faster & Louder – Hardcore Punk, Vol 1 (CD) (Rhino) 1993
“Academy Fight Song” Postpunk Chronicles: Left Of The Dial (CD) (Rhino) 1999
“That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” All Or Nothing (CD) (Uncut Magazine) 2002
“That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” Rough Trade Shops – Rock And Roll 1 (2xCD) (Mute Records Ltd.) 2002
“Trem Two” All Tomorrow’s Parties 2.0 (CD) (ATP Recordings) 2003
“Learn How (Live)” Comes With A Smile Vol. 11 – Hope Isn’t A Word (CD) (Comes With A Smile) 2004
“Dirt”, “Prepared” Intended Play Spring/Summer 2004 (CD, Promo) (Matador) 2004
“That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The 80s Underground (4xCD) (Rhino) 2004
“Dirt”, “Fame & Fortune” Matador At Fifteen (2xCD) (Matador) 2004
“Academy Fight Song” The Anthology (2xCD) (Rykodisc) 2004
“Academy Fight Song” Beyond Punk! (CD) (Mojo Magazine) 2005
“2wice”, “Spider’s Web” Everything Is Nicer (CD) (Matador) 2006
“2wice”, “Spider’s Web” Intended Play Spring 2006 (CD) (Matador) 2006
“That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” Intended Play, Spring 2008 (CD) (Matador) 2008

Vs. (1982)

Playing Time: 53 minutes 29 seconds

vs

1. Secrets (3:22)
2. Train (3:31)
3. Trem Two (4:11)
4. New Nails (3:00)
5. Dead Pool (4:06)
6. Learn How (3:56)
7. Mica (3:35)
8. Weatherbox (3:29)
9. The Ballad of Johnny Burma (2:01)
10. Einstein’s Day (4:35)
11. Fun World (3:41)
12. That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate (2:04)
13. Forget (2:59)
14. OK/No Way (1:59)
15. Laugh The World Away (3:54)
16. Progress (3:06)

Vs. 

Buy Vs. from Amazon.com

Buy Vs. from Mission of Burma

The Horrible Truth About Burma (1985)

Playing Time: 52 minutes 37 seconds

the horrible truth about burma

1. That’s When I Reach for My Revolver (3:38)
2. Tremelo (4:08)
3. Dumbells (2:07)
4. Peking Spring (3:41)
5. 1970 (3:35)
6. Learn How (3:33)
7. New Disco (3:26)
8. Dirt (3:29)
9. Red (3:48)
10. Heart of Darkness (8:54)
11. Trem Two (4:31)
12. Blackboard (3:08)
13. He Is. She Is (2:43)
14. Go Fun Burn Man (1:56)

The Horrible Truth About Burma [Part 1] [Part 2 ]

Buy The Horrible Truth About Burma from Amazon.com

BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC DISCOGRAPHY

EPs and Full-Length

Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic EP (12″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1983
Sound Valentine EP (12″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1983
Magnetic Flip (LP) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1984
Beat Of The Mesozoic (12″) (Ace Of Hearts Records) 1985
Sonic Geology (CD) (Rykodisc) 1990
Pyroclastics (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 1992
The Fossil Record, 1980-1987 (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 1995
Faultline (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 1995
Dancing on A’A (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 1995
Petrophonics (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 2000
The Iridium Controversy (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 2003
1001 Real Apes (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 2006
Extreme Spirituals (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 2006
2001 Live Birds (CD) (Dark Matter Distribution) 2006
Dawn of the Cycads (2xCD) (Cuneiform Records) 2008

Tracks Appear On:

Arf Arf Contemporary Music Sampler-Volume 1 (LP) (Arf Arf) 1984
“The True Wheelbase” Adventures in Music 3: Pop/Rock Sampler (CD) (Buys, Inc.) 1990
“Theme From Rocky And Bullwinkle” Steal This Disc (CD) (Rykodisc) 1991
“Tyronglaera II” Cuneiform Promo Sampler N°1 (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 1993
“Why Not Circulate” They Came, They Played, They Blocked The Driveway (2xCD) (WFMU) 1993
Unsettled Scores (2xCD) (Cuneiform Records) 1994
“Primordial Sludge” Cuneiform Progressive II (CD) (Cuneiform Records) 2002

Sonic Geology (1988)

Playing Time: 1 hour 11 minutes 41 seconds

sonic geology cover

1. Shiny Golden Snakes (3:06)
2. Ptoccata (3:20)
3. Waterwheel (3:57)
4. Pulse Piece (3:17)
5. The Rite of Spring (excerpts) (6:50)
6. The Orange Ocean (2:28)
7. The Tyger (3:21)
8. Scenes from A … (5:05)
9. The Beat of the Mesozoic. Part 1 (5:34)
10. International Tours (2:54)
11. Drift (2:39)
12. Final Motif (4:04)
13. Theme From Rocky and Bullwinkle (1:31)
14. The Fundamental (2:50)
15. Sound Valentine (3:20)
16. The Common Sparrow (4:57)
17. Lost in the B-Zone (4:31)
18. Triassic. Jurassic. Cretaceous (7:57)

Sonic Geology [Part 1] [Part 2]

Buy Sonic Geology from Cuneiform Records

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One response to “21 Songs

  1. Nice summation, and good to remind people that the guys weren’t entirely idle musically in the twenty-year gap between MOB records. One point of fact: it was Moving Parts that was the pre-Burma band, not Moving Targets. The latter were, of course, Kenny Chambers’s melodic guitar band, though also from Boston.

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