Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mission Of Burma/The Obliterati/8.3

Suffice it to say that this record is very, very good.

I spend a lot of time using the left side of my brain. It’s the side that gets exercised most in my day job – changing meeting notes into diagrams into computer software - but that side is inadequate at appreciating music. In fact, the cerebral lopsidedness of my work partly explains why music is such an important part of my life.

So the left side of my brain fires off all kinds of questions when thinking about Mission Of Burma’s latest album The Obliterati. Do critics praise this record out of homage of Mission of Burma as a critical touchstone? Have Mission of Burma been superseded in the wake of bands they’ve influenced? How does the latest record stack up to an essential album like Vs.? Every review I’ve read seems at least aware of these questions. If you know about Mission of Burma’s place in Rock history, these questions come up (and if you don’t know who Mission of Burma is, Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life isn’t a bad place to start).

Fortunately, you do not need an in depth knowledge of Mission of Burma's history to appreciate this record. I managed to distract the left side of my brain enough with work to squelch those questions and actually listen to The Obliterati. And the vote from the dexter side of my brain? The Obliterati is one of the more interesting records out this year. The first few tracks of the record didn’t initially catch me – 2wice is okay, but leads into the better Spider’s Web. The third track then reveals the first of many delightful surprises on the record – a sizzling high-hat and bass beat that leads into Mission of Burma’s distinctive crunch. The little surprises – Mission of Burma but with something new – continue throughout the record. In particular, the tracks 13 and Man In Decline startled me. The first starts with just guitar, then strings then gradually builds – bringing in drums and bass in the second half of the track. Man in Decline on the other hand starts quietly for a few seconds, and then catapults mid-verse into the song. There’s even an instrumental, The Mute Speaks Out, that starts with a drone then goes into wall of feedback– reminiscent of Roger Miller’s solo records with electric piano or noisier Sonic Youth. That track is then followed by the quieter Is This Where?. It’s these surprises that kept me listening through the whole record and then starting over.

The other thing that brings me back to the record is Mission of Burma’s heft. There isn’t anything out this year that quite sounds like The Obliterati, although I can think of plenty of bands from three, five or ten years ago that would fit alongside tracks from this record. Mission of Burma’s music on this record is forceful and still intelligent, loud but capable of subtlety, passionate but still witty.

I can’t keep the left side of my brain quiet for long and after listening to The Obliterati many times, it pipes up with further analysis. Maybe Mission of Burma can remain so original because, unlike younger bands, they’re not overwhelmed by the influences of their record collection? Perhaps they can combine so many aspects in their music because they are not attempting to fit into a critical sub-genre. Yeah, I suppose I could torment our readers with answers to those musing or at least voice such musing at a bar to drive away fellow patrons and get some elbow room.

In the end, The Obliterati is a good record. You don’t need footnotes to appreciate it, just ears. The PFM rating and review is spot on. I was originally going to write “just a good record”, but fourteen compelling songs is no mean feat. And good records aren’t such a common thing.