Mission of Burma’s 2004 “comeback” album, ONoffON, amazed many merely for its unlikely existence. The Boston post-punk trio’s return to recording and performing was noteworthy in and of itself, their ensuing shows proving that near two decades of inactivity doesn’t have to remove any intensity from a mighty act. Despite keeping busy with projects such as Consonant, Kustomized, Volcano Suns and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Clint Conley, Roger Miller and Peter Prescott never made a noise as glorious as the one that resonated from 1982’s Vs.. Still, it was the promise of new Burma material that kept us post-punksters salivating, and ONoffON delivered, for the most part. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t supposed to be—that was never the intent.
Releasing their third full-length album only two years after that long-awaited second, Mission of Burma returns not only with limitless energy, but some of their best songs to date. Every bit as raw and confrontational as before, perhaps even more so, The Obliterati takes several steps toward perfect, pressurizing chaos into a solid, nearly flawless punk rock album. What’s amazing is that MoB not only managed to finely tune their songs for this fantastic set, they also managed to become more abrasive in the past two years. If the opening chord chugs and bass throb of “2wice” don’t make that clear enough, the start-stop stomp in “Spider’s Web” or the snakes-and-ladders riffs in “Careening With Conviction” might. The band has never sounded this fierce (apologies for using a Tyra Banks term), and for that reason, they sound every bit as vital as they did on 1982’s landmark Vs. album.
The Obliterati showcases everything that Mission of Burma does well, and what they do better than anybody else: taut, rapid-fire shards of punk shrapnel, as streamlined or as gruff as they feel like. When Miller and Conley harmonize “you go/I’ll find you/you hide/I’ll fuck you up” on “2wice,” it’s as if they only gained strength during their split. But this album also exhibits some new direction for the band, particularly in the outstanding “Donna Sumeria.” Soaring and anthemic from the get-go and spreading out into a soulful jam interlude/nod to the titular Disco queen with its “I Feel Love” vocals. And “13,” a moodier cousin to ONoffON‘s “Prepared,” layers cello on top of haunting minor key balladry, something that was really only alluded to before, and never quite indulged.
As exciting as it is to hear new sides of the band, some songs on The Obliterati might lead one to believe that no time had actually passed during the band’s long separation. Hearing “Man in Decline” or “1001 Pleasant Dreams” is akin to the first time hearing “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” or “This Is Not a Photograph” or even “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” all of which are still in rotation at Mission of Burma shows, by the way. “Man In Decline” is the hyper-speed punk number, careening (with conviction?) toward the listener with unspeakable force and velocity. And the remarkably catchy “1001 Pleasant Dreams,” a tightly wound ball of tension, pairs odd, surreal couplets such as “you said my name was hyper-allergenic/you said I was not hyper-real.” Sure, I may sound like I’m employing a good bit of hyperbole, but trust me, the next chance you get to see the band live, you’re going to be fucking stoked when they play these songs.
Closing the album with the amusing but bizarre “Nancy Reagan’s Head,” The Obliterati wraps up as vitriolic as it began, offering the line “Roxy Music came to save the world, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Not always content to play straight punk rock with transparent sloganeering, Mission of Burma, as they always have, offer a cerebral form of punk that never sacrifices any of its aggression or confrontation. For anyone that believed the notion that The Clash were the only band that mattered, The Obliterati should dispel such an idea. Because even if no other band did right now, Mission of Burma matters.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.