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Mission Of Burma Sign To Matador; New Album In May

Catherine Lewis reports:
Boston's legendary Mission of Burma has signed with Matador Records to release its first album in twenty-two years. What's that, you say? That's longer than you've been alive? Then sit down, children, and let me tell you a story. Mission of Burma was founded in Boston in 1978 by guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott, and the highly-elusive tape-manipulator Martin Swope. During their five-year career, they released one album (Vs.), one EP (Signals, Calls, and Marches), and two singles for the Ace of Hearts label. They broke up in 1983 due to Miller's tinnitus (please wear earplugs, kids), and went their separate ways.

Miller pursued a solo career and a band called Birdsongs of the Mesozoic (with Swope). Prescott formed the phenomenal Volcano Suns, with Shellac's Bob Weston. Conley produced the first Yo La Tengo album before setting aside his music career to work as a producer for a Boston television station (in the past two years, Conley has resurfaced to release two solid albums with his new pop-rock supergroup Consonant, which features members of Codeine, Come, Bedhead, and Fuzzy).

Despite each member's side- and solo projects, nothing has been quite the same as Burma. And for all those years, Burma wasn't forgotten; their songs have been covered by everyone from R.E.M. ("Academy Fight Song") to Moby ("That's When I Reach for My Revolver") to Blur's Graham Coxon ("Fame and Fortune"). Their albums were re-released by Rykodisc and CD's of demo recordings and radio sessions were compiled and released by Taang.

And then in late 2001, the unthinkable happened: Mission of Burma announced reunion shows in New York City. One concert turned into two, and what seemed like the entire east coast made a mass exodus to the Irving Plaza to see if the magic was still there--and it was! The band was almost the same lineup--the three original on-stage members (Miller, Conley, and Prescott) were joined by Shellac's Bob Weston on tape loops and mixing instead of Martin Swope, who is presumably catching some rays on the sandy beaches of Hawaii. For the next two years, Burma played a handful of shows all over the U.S., joined onstage by a traveling sign reading "No New McCarthy Era!"

And now for what you really want to know: they're back in the studio. The album is being recorded at Boston's Q-Division studios, engineered by Bob Weston with assistance from Rick Harte. "The new album is for the most part complete," writes Conley from Boston. "We go in this weekend to do some last-minute changes." Yes, that's all well and good, but how does the new stuff sound? "I think it will sound pretty Burmesque to people-- there are some bursters (fast quick ones), some pacers (slower) and assorted slabs (heavy in-betweens)."

All three original members of the band share songwriting and production duties, and the folks from Rachel's add string arrangements to a few of the songs. Conley continues, "Roger [Miller] contributes a batch of rich, complex beautiful songs, Peter [Prescott] roars up a few apoplectics, and I fill it out with some Up With People-style pop ditties. There is probably less anthem. But then again there wasn't much of that on Vs. either. It's pretty straight guitar/bass/drums and Westie loops."

Mission of Burma will be performing on January 17th in New York City at Irving Plaza, in March at the SXSW Convention in Austin, and in April at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Camber Sands, England. Many more North American and European dates will follow throughout 2004.

.: Pitchfork Review: Consonant: Love and Affliction
.: Mission of Burma:
.: Matador:
.: Originally published: 9 January 2004
.: Items mentioned above on Signals, Calls, and Marches (Mission of Burma, 1981); Vs. (Mission of Burma, 1982).