ONoffON is Mission Of Burma's first album in more than 20 years, but it sounds like it could have been recorded in 1983. The group's enduring influence is a distinct mesh of noise and melody, but though hooky distortion is common today, it's been more than a decade since college radio was dominated by songs resembling ONoffON's "Max Ernst's Dream," with its erratic melody, Morse-code rhythms, and siren-like instrumental interlude. "Max Ernst's Dream" is quintessential Burma, at once alluring and terrifying, with a complexity and ferocity that sounds like Steely Dan playing through an air raid.
In the early '80s, Mission Of Burma had a reputation as the loudest band on the club circuit, which forced the group into early retirement when guitarist Roger Miller developed acute tinnitus. But Burma's loudness isn't really comparable to that of any punk or metal act. The band just vibrates heavily, as on ONoffON's "Falling," where a pretty lament with a gently exotic tune floats across a cloud of rumble and boom, or on "What We Really Were," which makes even a hushed piano break sound apocalyptic. Unlike the clean, jagged, self-contained post-punk being revived in New York, Mission Of Burma's art-damaged music rattles and collapses, leaving amazing debris.
ONoffON revives three songs from oft-anthologized unfinished Mission Of Burma recording sessions. The alternately hopeful and desperate "Hunt Again" and "Dirt" and the ferocious "Playland" would be filler, if they didn't provide context for the rest of the record. Fleshed out by original producer Rick Harte, the three tracks hold the same dark majesty as they did in demo form, indicating that two decades on, Mission Of Burma still sweats out the same nightmares.