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Signals, Calls and Marches (Remastered)

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Album Review

One could argue that Mission of Burma's first 12" release, Signals, Calls and Marches was the point where "indie rock" as a separate and distinct musical subgenre well and truly began. Mission of Burma's music had the brawn and the volume of hardcore punk, but with a lyrical intelligence and obvious musical sophistication that set them apart from the Southern California faster-and-louder brigade. Between Martin Swope's tape loops and Roger Miller's often tricky guitar lines, Mission of Burma may have seemed "arty" on the surface, but the bruising impact of "Outlaw" and "This Is Not a Photograph" made clear this band was not part of the skinny-tie "New Wave" scene. And Mission of Burma were one of the first bands that gained a large enough following to attract the attention of major labels, but opted to remain on a small label of their own volition — a move that would raise the "integrity" stakes for many acts in the years to come. Signals, Calls and Marches features Mission of Burma's best-known song, the still-powerful "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," but it hasn't stood the test of time quite as well as the full-length album that would follow, Vs.; there are brief moments where the band still seems to be working out their obvious British influences, and "Outlaw" sounds stiffer than it needs to be. But Clint Conley and Roger Miller were already songwriters to be reckoned with, the band sounds passionate and powerful, and if Mission of Burma were not yet at the peak of their form, most bands blazing as many trails as this one did lost their footing a lot more often that Burma did on these six songs; Signals, Calls and Marches was as accomplished and impressive a debut as any American band would release in the 1980s. [For Matador's 2008 "Definitive Edition" of the EP, the disc opens with the debut single and adds two otherwise unreleased session outtakes, "Devotion" and "Execution," before closing with the six songs from Signals. Along with the rare studio material, Matador's package features expanded liner notes and rare photos as well as a bonus DVD preserving live footage of the band from 1979 and 1980. While the camera work and editing is often self-consciously arty, the performances are great and include some rare early tunes that never made it to an album, as well as a cover of the Doors' "Break on Through." And the remastering on the CD is superb; this material has never sounded this good before. In short, Matador's reissue lives up to its billing as it is truly the definitive presentation of this music.]


Formed: 1980 in Boston, MA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '00s, '10s

Of all the punk-inspired bands that came out of Boston in the early '80s, none were better than Mission of Burma. Arty without being too pretentious, capable of writing gripping songs and playing with ferocious intensity, guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott, and tape head Martin Swope galvanized the city's alternative rock scene, and despite a too-short existence, set a standard for excellence that has rarely been equalled -- a standard the band upheld when they unexpectedly...
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