Picking up where yesterday's post left off, the flipside to taking my time, letting my discovery of music happen in what I've manipulated myself into thinking is an organic way, is that sometimes I come across albums that make me punch myself in the face for not hearing ten or fifteen years ago. The last time I felt that acutely was when I heard Television's Marquee Moon for the first time three or four years ago. The album was like discovering a missing link in my musical awakenings as a seventeen-year-old in Fresno who was flipping his wig over the Rollins Band's punk/blues jams and Drive Like Jehu's precision-focused fury. Marquee Moon would have sent me over the moon back then! When I listen to that album I think about what it would have led me to. I probably would have gotten much deeper into the 70s New York scene—Talking Heads, Richard Hell, Patti Smith. It might have eventually led me to the No Wave New York of Mars, DNA, Glenn Branca. All stuff I eventually dipped into (but have never been obsessive about), but what if I had discovered it all when I was still at my most impressionable? Who knows.
The same has happened more recently with Mission of Burma, a band like Television that I'd heard about starting back in my earliest days of caring about this music, but who I just never got around to hearing for no good reason. Well, one good reason is that I don't think their albums were in print, or at least available in my record stores, during the years I was in high school and college; but that still doesn't excuse waiting until 2008 to finally hear them I chalk it up to that irrational suspicion I talked about yesterday. I was finally spurred to pick up Signals, Calls, and Marches, which collects their first EP and early singles, after reading about them in Michael Azzerad's Our Band Could Be Your Life. While perhaps not quite the revelation that Marquee Moon was for me, Signals was still a kind of "missing link" record, in the sense that it totally recontextualized how I heard Fugazi and a lot of other late-80s early-90s Dischord bands. Burma was clearly influenced by Gang of Four, who were a couple years ahead of them in terms of that angular, discordant sound, but they were also four, five, eight, ten years ahead of the bands who defined what punk and indie sounded like in the late 80s and early 90s.
- Mission of Burma: Academy Fight Song [from Signals, Calls and Marches, 1981]
A couple weeks ago I picked up their first full-length, Vs., and was even more blown away by their sound. Though Vs doesn't contain a song as catchy as "Academy Fight Song" or "Devotion" or "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," it succeeds as a fuller, more ambitious work. Many of the songs reach a positively cinematic zenith, foreshadowing bands like Sonic Youth or Unwound. Both those bands might be a little darker, at times heavier or more experimental, but their template is there in Burma.
I don't know what hearing either Burma record back in 1994 would have altered for me; unlike Television, Burma didn't really come from a scene that took on the same mythic qualities nor begged to investigated the way the CBGB scene has. Still, it burns me a little each time I hear the records: a little voice inside me nags, "This record should be old news to you. It should have long been part of your vocabulary. You should have listened to everyone who ever recommended them to you."
- Mission of Burma: Dead Pool [from Vs, 1982]