Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 4: Mission Of Burma, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver"

Artist: Mission Of Burma
Song: "That's When I Reach For My Revolver"
Album: Signals, Calls and Marches
Year: 1981

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Within every style of music, there are a wide range of influences that become part of the overall creation, and though many may think differently, not all of these elements are present at the onset of the new genre.  As the style in question becomes more solidified, it is the "second wave" of bands that often perfect the sound, becoming an influence onto themselves, and standing as a pivotal point in the timeline of the genre in question.  This is perhaps no more evident than in the years that followed the "explosion" of punk rock in 1977, as countless bands began to spin the punk attitude into their own, unique musical style.  Of all of the bands of the so-called "post punk" sound, there were few that could hold their own on any level when compared to the sound and vision of Boston's own Mission Of Burma.  Unquestionably one of the most creative and all out devastating bands in history, Mission Of Burma brought with them a sound that refused to be ignored, and they can be seen as key players in the development of the hardcore and alternative sounds, as bands ranging from R.E.M. to Fugazi all have very close sonic links to the group.  Though Mission Of Burma only released a handful of albums during their career, one can argue that none measured up to the staggering presence of their 1981 EP, Signals, Calls and Marches.  Filled with some of the bands' finest moments, there is no better example of the sheer power and presence that makes Mission Of Burma legends to this day than their 1981 single, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver."

From the moment that the song begins, there is no question that the mood and musical arrangement are a far cry from anything else being created at the time.  Though the "gloomy" post-punk sound is present, in the case of "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," there is an edge and urgency that places it in a category all its own.  The way that the band is able to build and release the tension is nothing short of fantastic, and it is this sense of the dramatic that is one of the most unforgettable aspects of the entire song.  Bassist Clint Conley deploys one of the most powerful lines in recorded history, and it is the way that his sound seems to almost loom over the listener, keeping the heavy, somewhat dark mood intact that served as a massive influence on later musicians.  Though he works in the background for a majority of the song, guitarist Roger Miller makes as staggering a musical statement as one can hope for, and the tone and attitude with which he plays can be seen as the main source for inspiration for nearly the entire hardcore movement, as well as a majority of the punk-style bands that followed.  The drumming and percussion from Peter Prescott and Martin Swope serve as the ideal finishing touch to the sound, as the dry, stark rhythms that they deploy enable "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" to retain a stripped down, organic sound.  It is the way that all of the instruments come together in controlled chaos that are truly unforgettable, and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" remains one of the most unique musical experiences ever recorded.

Along with deploying his absolutely incendiary bassline, Clint Conley provides equally impressive and moving vocals for the track, and it is this final element that sets "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" so far apart from the rest of the catalog of Mission Of Burma.  In both the sound of his voice, as well as the attitude with which he sings, Conley sets the entire framework for the "hardcore sound" on this track, and yet there is not a moment that seems unnatural or forced, and though it was certainly the blueprint for the genre, it does not "sound" like the stereotypical hardcore vocal.  The urgency that can be found within every aspect of the music is matched by that of Conley's voice, and throughout the track, one can understand that while listeners may not agree with every word he says, there is no question that every word demands to be heard.  It is this unspoken confidence and presence that becomes the defining element of "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," and there are few vocal performances from any point in history that are as completely captivating as one finds here.  The tone of his voice match perfectly with the powerful lyrics that he delivers at every turn, as Conley spins a rant on becoming disillusioned with the world around him, and one can feel the tension in the alienation about which he sings.  The fact that every line is so powerful and emotional pushes "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" to a truly unparalleled level, and the "explosion" that occurs during the chorus is absolutely second to none.

As the decades have passed, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" has remained one of the most cited songs in terms of influence for a wide range of bands, and a large number of cover versions have emerged since it was first released.  Though it may seem like a rather unexpected musical connection, Moby found moderate chart success with his own 1996 cover of the song, and everyone from The Catherine Wheel to Pegboy have all released their own take on this now-classic track.  Yet no cover in part or whole has been able to capture the urgency and almost nervous energy of the Mission Of Burma original, and even more than thirty years after it was first released, the song still easily holds its own with the current smattering of hardcore and punk-style performers.  It is the way that the guitars ring across the track, clashing with the stiff, almost harsh percussion that makes "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" such a brilliant musical work, and this passion with which they play blends perfectly with the subtlety punishing vocals from Conley.  In many ways, one can point to Mission Of Burma as the ideal representation of everything that had been done to that point within the punk genre, as there are elements of bands ranging from The Stooges to The Clash to Gang Of Four within their sound.  However, it is the fresh, unique way that the band brings these influences together that makes their sound so groundbreaking, and there are few songs in history that remain as potent and important as what one can experience on Mission Of Burma's superb 1981 single, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver."

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