Ferocious, dissonant, intellectual, intimidating — select an adjective from the post-punk vocabulary list, and it can be used to describe the early 80s catalog of Mission of Burma. But while the Bostonians certainly earned a spot in the rock canon, their songs can’t accurately be called a good time. It wasn’t a ball for Roger Miller when the group’s punishing volume accelerated his tinnitus, forcing him to quit in 1983 to flee for softer tones. Drummer Peter Prescott, left bandless, subsequently cobbled together a new group, recording as Volcano Suns for Homestead. Unlike Big Black, Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr., their records faded out of print when their label passed into legend. Finally, Merge has reissued the band’s first two LPs, 1985’s The Bright Orange Years and 1986’s All Night Lotus Party. The records are looser and less serious than Burma’s, but no less deserving of enduring renown.
With sparse arrangements, The Bright Orange Years notably leans on the vocal interplay between Prescott and his new chums. Overlapping shouts haphazardly reinforce each other, loosely blurring into melody — this is not politely bearded folk harmonizing. Driving and strummy, these songs sound like the basement jams of drunken pals, far from Mission of Burma’s stern boundary pushing. They’re even playful in their own way (think bloody knuckles, not Parcheesi). Each record is expanded with singles and rarities; both sides of included ‘86 single “Sea Cruise” clear the LP’s high bar.
All Night Lotus Party features more songwriting input from the rest of the band, who were apparently chomping at the bit to be a bit more aggressive. The squirming guitars of opener “White Elephant” are instantly more abrasive than anything on the previous disc, contributing to a likably surly track. While it doesn’t quite have the boozy charm of its predecessor, its sound broadens to incorporate searing noise and a tuneful ballad. The band would release records across various labels into the early 90s, its lineup in perpetual flux. For now, the original Suns can do some well-deserved basking.