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.