Review Summary: The blistering attack of classic Burma merges with a newfound maturity Though a few quibbles persist, the band continues to move forward and deliver excellent, unique rock music with style and power.
Smashing out of the gates a mere 2 years after the first post-reunited Burma album, OnoffOn, “The Obliterati” knows exactly what it is and the name says it all. It’s a blistering, rumbling attack that obliterates the line between melody and sheer squalor. With the opening drums that rush the band into “2wice”, the albums barrels forward with all the energy of the original Burma intact, though a few small problems again crop up to relegate it to ‘mere’ greatness.
The Clint Conley-penned opener storms forward with a great hook and bludgeoning drums underpinned by the trademark rumbling Burma bass. All seems to be going just fine and indie until (GASP) the chorus throws in some pop vocal melodies. Surprisingly sweet vocal textures meet the waves of noise head on. After the excellent bass parts and “La, la” chorus of the bridge, the song drops back into the original hook and brings it home.
“Spider’s Web” is another standout, the tangled silvery hook of the guitar intertwining with the bass line for a hell of a riff. Here, though, the drums seem a little flat. One asks, where is the Peter Prescott of old, the artful percussionist capable of such complex and topsy-turvy beats? The production is mostly to blame here, being a bit murky. This works in the favor of the overall sound at most moments, but here the drums sound unremarkable, which is rare for Burma. The murk over the drums make Prescott seem like ‘just’ a drummer, which just isn’t good. Too bad the main riff and bass are so good, makes bludgeoning, Neanderthal drums just kind of moot.
“Donna Sumeria” is quite a charmer after a few listens, copping a goofy groove from Donna Summer and still managing to combine that humor and a few falsetto vocals with a great Burmal wave of guitar fireworks. The tape effects and chopped-up solo work wonders here, too, evoking a great feel of classic Mission of Burma material while conveying a new and mature sense of irony and humor.
The later “1001 Pleasant Dreams” evokes “Secrets” as a blur of vibrato guitar and booming bass wrapped up in a chorus of “oooohs”, though one might wish for a more rushed pace, the bass parts and guitar swirl definitely prove the might of the new Burma. Hell, Conley’s bass playing might be stronger here on The Obliterati than even on the mighty Vs.
Vocal standouts include the aforementioned “Donna” disco groove and the faux-howl in “Man In Decline”. At the tail end of things, Peter Prescott’s “Period” gallops on a nearly classic rock riff and some great vocals. “Bounding over boundaries!” and “There’s a time and place… to punctuate!” hit at the gut level. The final track, too, does its thing well, loudly proclaiming the freakish nature of the size of Nancy Reagan’s head. Old grudges die hard, even if it is a different Reagan here.
The throwback you might not expect is the instrumental counterpart to “All World Cowboy Romance” from Signals, Calls, and Marches, the measuredly intense “The Mute Speaks Out”. “Mute” constructs a great ebb and flow of guitar lines and tape effects, drums and Gregorian chants until it all winds up into a wall of tense guitar squeal, more percussive tape loops, and slightly rushed percussion that segues into Clint’s melancholy “Is This Where?”, which treads structural water a bit. It’s not hard to see where it’s going.
Other uses of tremolo and Vs.-era effects emphasizes the power retained by this incarnation of Burma even as they try new things. They branch out farther here than on OnoffOn, suggesting that the fact that they’ve gone from recording interim material to exclusively originals has re-ignited their experimental tendencies. They succeed more often than not here, but it only works when the drums don’t drown in mud and the hooks emerge as clearly as they should. Other than a few weak moments, it’s all gravy here, and suggests that the records we all hope come after can improve upon and remember the strengths of this excellent offering.