Mission of Burma's first new album in 22 years sounds like the postpunk cult fave never stopped writing Burma material. If anything, On Off On showboats a songwriting trio – guitarist/vocalist Roger Miller, bassist/ vocalist Clint Conley and drummer/vocalist Peter Prescott – whose vocal cords rattle with middle age, but whose skills with the three-to-four-minute anthem teeter damn near masterful.

On's 16 songs run the gamut of Burma's characteristic angularity-sharpened-to-scalpel-precision, an expertise paraded in Miller's vivid guitar sprawl. The noise symphony he conjures out of his ax now includes fluttering-butterfly slides ("The Setup"), industrial-press chomp and metal-sheet stomp ("The Enthusiast"), psychedelic sunflowers ("Fake Blood") and a gnarled riff that's Jesus Lizard-evil ("Wounded World").

What pushes On out of comeback romanticism is the maturity that polishes Burma's signature sound. Burma 2004 sounds more of the things that defined it – more coarse, more cagily sophisticated and more confident that it can make feral squelch, percussion ramblings and bass arrhythmia swing. Conley's lovely "Prepared" cools Burma's fiery template to a sway without dulling its serrated edge. Miller's shattered-glass lyrics – "Once, you were on my side/ But I will make you wish that I had died" ("Wounded World") and "I know yours do you know mine/ Knock me off the wall well I feel fine" ("Into the Fire") – cut as deep as they ever did. And Prescott's "The Enthusiast" is the most pissed-off song in rock right now. On Off On isn't resurrected glory; it's rock relevant to the here and now forged by three adult men who live in it.

More by Bret McCabe


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