Mission of Burma’s The Sound the Speed the Light, a Motorhead Complex, Pillaging Opinions and Opining Pillages


A common thing for assholes to say is “Oh man, listen again. It’s has to GROW on you.” These are the same jerks that tell you that a band like Animal Collective will somehow become interesting if you listen to them enough times, slowly taking over your chief motor functions like some weird unidentified fungus from the jungles of Brazil. I think this is mostly bullshit, though sometimes I’m an asshole too and an album will creep up on me and grab me by the balls or the brain (depending on the album, sometimes an arm or leg) after first saying it was crap. But it is mostly bullshit. If you listen to ANYTHING enough times and dedicate enough of your life to doing it OVER and OVER, you will end up liking it because it’s familiar to you and hell, human beings want to know they are not dicking around doing something completely unimportant and meaningless so they have to justify their importance by validating the object in question with a “Good” stamp.

Now, on to Mission of Burma’s The Sound the Speed the Light. Off the bat. Horrible album title. Sounds like something only a scumbag like Bono could come up with, not my favorite band walking the planet. I never hold titles against anyone, so on to the music. TSTSTL (acronymized would have been a better album title) is not only a great Burma record it’s a great record. The difference being they can still out-punk the post-punk fucks and out-punk themselves by doing something different than in the past.

Here’s my transitional sentence. At first I thought there wasn’t anything that special going on with this. All the BURMA elements are there. It sounds like the type of album Mission of Burma would make instead of one they actually did make. This fits into something I like to call the Motorhead Complex. The Motorhead Complex is not a bad thing! Back off, you assholes! I love Motorhead. The Motorhead Complex is this: every 2 or so years Motorhead puts out an album and it’s a Motorhead album. It’s going to sound like Motorhead. It’s going to have the same type of song content, sound and length. The art will look similar to the previous 10 albums. (“Whorehouse Blues” defies the Motorhead Complex, but nothing’s perfect so shut up). If one Motorhead album is better than another, it is slight. Purists will tell you some are greatly better than others, but that’s only because these albums set the Complex into motion. If the others had come first, they would be the ones people view as the CLASSICS or BETTER Motorhead albums. I labeled The Sound the Speed the Light as definite Motorhead Complex after the first few listens. This wasn’t a wrong thing to do, but on the surface the songs do drift together.

There is a reason I went back. There always is. Other than the fact that I do owe it to Burma to give anything they produce many chances, the reason is live. I saw them play a majority of these songs live and “1,2,3 Partyy!” might have been the best song of the night and their best machine-gun riff song post-reunion. (NYCTAPER has the show here.) I’ve seen Burma more than one time touring every single one of their post-hiatus albums. I am continually surprised by the way the new songs fit together with the old.  Its nearly seamless. At Bowery last month, Peter Prescott thanked the audience last time for sitting through the new stuff, but he didn’t have to do that. Burma fans are believers.

Four paragraphs and hardly nothing about what I figured out. There’s a lot hidden in the cracks of this album that other albums don’t have. The broken down merry-go-round of “Possession” with the guitar shred echoes. The cat in heat playing a harmonica at the end of “So Fuck It.” I assume that’s Bob Weston’s cat. Clint Conley’s brother as a member of the band for saying only 1, 2, 3. The lyrics as awkwardly hilarious as anything in the past. “One/Don’t look at anyone/Two/Drink only when drunken to/Three/Plan out your drinks then go out and drink your plan.” To me, that’s Beefheart humor. Hardly anyone can pull that off. Burma can. “Good Cheer” is a drinking song. Listen for the background vocals, absolutely genius.

There’s way too much bass and way too much drums on a lot of songs, but I love it. “Feed” makes my ears hurt. Listening to it at work with headphones on, headphones being something I hardly ever do, let the little things creep out, let the bass and really weird drums sink in. Clint singing “Wake up, baby/fix us tea/ toss these blankets/come pillage me” is something hardly any bands can get away with. It’s Burma unabashed, unabashed about being sweet even though it is a request to be pillaged.

“Come undone” has the best 15 second epic solo of all time and I think it’s the drum roll behind the guitar that does it for me.

Listening to it enough times now, TSTSTL has graduated like the other new Burma albums into the Burma canon. There’s almost no new distinction anymore for me, but definitely still new attempts at breaking the mold. It’s got more heart than the last two, but still enough kick to drink and jump around to.

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