Record reviews roundup: Redd Kross and Mission of Burma

August 23, 2012

Time to catch up on some noteworthy releases from recent weeks, starting with two hugely influential bands from the pre-alternative era.

With one foot in L.A.’s hardcore punk scene and the other in timeless power-pop (they were raised in suburban Hawthorne, which also gave us the Beach Boys), the McDonald brothers made four excellent albums with their band Redd Kross in the ’80s and early ’90s before being overshadowed by grunge—though in a just world, 1990’s Third Eye would have been every bit as popular as Nevermind. They haven’t given us a new album since Show World in 2007, but they return with a vengeance on Researching the Blues, delivering their timeless mix of effervescent energy and indelible melodies as frantically as ever, while showing a new, welcome maturity in much of the subject matter (a trend that’s been increasing since the immortal “I Don’t Know How to Be Your Friend” from Third Eye). Which is not to say there aren’t still plenty of kitschy pop-culture references; this is an album that includes the back-to-back songs “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Meet Frankenstein.”

Redd Kross, Researching the Blues (Merge)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

Arguably the most influential American art-punk of the ’80s, inspiring as many groups as Wire, the Buzzcocks or Television did during punk’s first wave, the Boston trio Mission of Burma made only one EP and one album in its initial run; amazingly, since reforming early in the new millennium, they have tripled that output. Now comes album number five, Unsound, which finds guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley and drummer Peter Prescott trading roles at times but sounding every bit as ferocious as usual, as well as tremendously melodic. That combination of intense punk energy and delightful pop tunefulness is the band’s secret weapon, and all three musicians put their own stamp on it as vocalists and songwriters. No, there isn’t one tune here as brilliant as “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” or “Academy Fight Song” from round one. But there are 11 that are quite nearly as great, and that’s plenty from a band in its fourth decade.

Mission of Burma, Unsound (Fire)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.