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Finally! Mission Of Burma Record New Album

Boston — This is not a photograph — it's a new album from Mission of Burma.

Legendary Boston art punks Mission of Burma will be releasing their first album of new material in 22 years this May on Matador. The new disc, as yet untitled, was recorded last fall at Somerville's Q-Division studios with the group's newest member, Bob Weston (Shellac), producing, and Rick Harte (of MOB's former label Ace of Hearts) assisting.

"It was a blast working in the studio with [drummer] Peter [Prescott] and [guitarist] Roger [Miller]," said bassist Clint Conley. "I think we have a pretty unique and productive chemistry given that there is no semblance of leadership. Instead we have three pretty fully developed musical sensibilities that against the odds mesh together with remarkably little friction. It may sound corny, but the whole thing works because we have a fundamental respect for each other."

The new album follows roughly two years of sporadic but highly acclaimed reunion shows, which began when three of the four original MOB members — Miller, Prescott and Conley — opened for Wire as part of Prescott's Peer Group. The three began performing together again as Mission of Burma in January 2002, breaking a nearly 20-year period of inactivity. Martin Swope, who had added the group's early, signature tape manipulation, declined to participate, and Weston filled his spot. Since re-forming, MOB have performed 16 times, including last November's L.A.-based All Tomorrow's Parties and, most recently, at Irving Plaza in New York City on January 17th. Conley noted that new material has been well received at shows, but added, "There's a definite welcoming kind of excitement when we play the older songs.

"Originally there was no plan to record," Conley explained. "We scheduled two shows and threw in some new songs to keep things lively. Then we added a couple of shows and a few more songs bloomed up. And on and on until we were looking at a long list of new ones."

He added that all three of the band's original members have written songs for the new album, with the final track listing including seven from Miller, three from Prescott and five of Conley's own. "To my ear, Roger's songs sound very similar to the old Mission of Burma material, while Peter's are more venting and spewing, and mine are sort of tuneful."

Demo versions of three of the album's tracks — "Dirt," "Hurt Again" and "Play Land" — were released on the Taang! label in the early '90s, though, according to Conley, the band had never been satisfied with the quality of the old recordings.

Mission of Burma formed in 1980, issuing their first single, "Academy Fight Song," that year and breaking new ground with its angular, discordant, yet memorably melodic sound. The band followed up a year later with the EP Signals Calls and Marches, which included two of the group's best-known songs, Conley's "That's When I Reach for My Revolver" and Miller's "This Is Not a Photograph." MOB's only full-length studio album, Vs., followed in 1982; it showcased the group at its loudest and most experimental, with such songs as "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" and "The Ballad of Johnny Burma."

The band broke up in 1983, after Miller developed tinnitus, which made it impossible for him to continue performing. (He wears protective headgear and Prescott's drum set is walled off with Plexiglas for current concerts.) Miller and Swope went on to form Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, while Prescott headed up the Volcano Sons (a band that included Weston). Conley dropped out of music for more than a decade, returning simultaneously with the re-formed MOB and his other project Consonant in 2002.

Conley said that MOB will likely be making a video to support the new album, a new experience for a band that stopped recording before MTV became a dominant part of the musical landscape. (Although he thinks they appeared on an early version of "120 Minutes" before they went into hiatus.) Conley, whose day job is producing segments for the Boston-based TV show "Chronicles," said he'll resist the temptation to interfere with any future video production activities. "I'll be happy to stay out of the way and let the professionals do their work," he said.

Mission of Burma will be playing at this year's SXSW in Austin. In late February they'll do three shows: Echo Lounge in Atlanta on Feb. 20, the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 21, and at Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia on Feb. 22. — Jennifer Kelly [Friday, January 23, 2004]

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