Signals, Calls and Marches

Mission of Burma

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Signals, Calls and Marches Review

by Mark Deming

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. [Some reissues add the band's fine first single, "Academy Fight Song" b/w "Max Ernst," as a bonus.]

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