Reviews

Mission of Burma: Not a Photograph [DVD]

Jeremy Estes

This film is, at best, a primer for those who aren’t yet but desperately need to be familiar with Mission of Burma.


Mission of Burma

Not a Photograph

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: MVD Visual
US Release Date: 2006-11-21
Amazon
iTunes

Rock 'n' roll reunions aren’t typically worth the effort. They’re generally nostalgic, often just sad excuses for musicians past their prime to earn a little supplemental income while giving their aging fans a chance to wear denim jackets and get drunk. In recent years, these reunions have been about self importance (think the Doors of the 21st Century) or simply fail to capture the magic of the glory days (as in the case of the Who’s umpteen returns).

Still, there are exceptions to the rule, as at least two recent reunions have proved. The Pixies, arguably one of the most influential bands since the Velvet Underground, hit the road again in 2004 to fans’ rejoicing and rave reviews; that same year also saw the release of OnoffOn, the first Mission of Burma album in two decades, and only the second full length issued by the band.

Not a Photograph details Mission of Burma's resurrection, beginning with reunion shows in 2002 and culminating with OnoffOn’s release, through a series of interviews and archival footage and film of those triumphant shows that brought the band out of hibernation after 20 years. Fans including Moby, Mike Watt and even Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander weigh in with their thoughts on Mission of Burma's impact during their brief career and marvel at the band’s seamless transition from early '80s post punk pioneers to 21st century living legends. The film is a worthy, if flawed, look at a band that, despite its limited output, created a lasting legacy of incredible music.

Formed in 1979 in Boston from the remnants of the Moving Parts, Mission of Burma created, in the words of Moving Parts member Mark Lindgren, "jagged, angular anti-pop, in pop way" over the course of one album, an EP and two singles. Though their loud, abrasive brand of music meant they were never destined for fame and fortune on par with '80s contemporaries like Foreigner or REO Speedwagon, MOB were still successful, along with bands like Sonic Youth and the Minutemen, in the burgeoning indie rock scene of the day. In 1983, while still at the peak of the musical prowess, the band -- guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott and tape loop wizard Martin Swope (who declined the invitation to reunite) -- broke up. Rock clichés of debauchery on the road and infighting weren’t to blame, however -- Miller’s hearing was suffering after being pummeled for years by loud music. To protect his health, the band had to end.

The film dispenses with those early days in a hurry, covering them because they’re necessary but avoiding any in-depth analysis or details of the band’s early days. Instead, the focus shifts quickly to the present day, and the band members' excitement over getting back together. There are brief mentions of Miller’s solo work, Prescott’s band the Volcano Suns, and Conley’s total abandonment of music (he didn’t even own a guitar "to strum on", he says). Though the break up was anything but acrimonious, co-directors David Kleiler, Jr. and Jeff Iwanicki fail to touch on relations between the band members after the band’s demise. Underlining this lack of information is the absence of Martin Swope, a man who was somewhat shrouded in mystery even during Mission of Burma’s early days. Miller says Swope declined the invitation to play in an email, but that’s the only information the audience is given.

The disc’s bonus features expand on footage included in the film: a 1978 Moving Parts performance of Mission of Burma's "Max Ernst" and performances from 1979 and '80. Also included is a Boston local news segment on the band; an interesting, if short, nugget that puts Mission of Burma's break up in its original context. These clips aren’t high quality in terms of visual or audio fidelity, but they’re not unwatchable. Better is the footage from the 2002 reunion. The image and sound quality is pristine, and the performances amazing.

Not a Photograph is not an in-depth, warts and all documentary, but that hardly seems to be its makers’ intention. Instead, it’s a celebration of an often overlooked band that reappeared out of nowhere and sounding like the last 20 years never happened. The film is, at best, a primer for those who aren’t yet but desperately need to be familiar with Mission of Burma. What is really important, of course, is the band’s incredible music, and the film certainly succeeds in always putting it front and center.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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