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14 December 2009

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic - 'Magnetic Flip' (Ace of Hearts)

Fast-forward to 1984 - Burma is pretty much done and now Birdsongs of the Mesozoic can open up their wings and soar. This record explodes, sounding a zillion times more confident than the debut EP does. Partially this is because of the recording - the drums are pounding, the electric guitars burn, and the you can feel the energy coursing through the microphones. But the band's performances are far more lively, feeling like a dynamic unit here instead of a series of academic overdubs like on the EP. The mix-tape highlight is the cover of the theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but they tackle Rite of Spring too. And they do it well! But the original compositions have much more of a flow to them. The opening cut, 'Shiny Golden Snakes', is built around shards of electric guitar that sound like they're sampled from a Gang of Four record. There's confident RIO/prog strides here but there's still a heavy focus on tapes and collages. I think if anything, Magnetic Flip sounds more like Mission of Burma, but if Chris Cutler had replaced Peter Prescott. 'The Fundamental' is a crashing cacophony of thunderous density that explores rhythm, texture and tone all at the same time. The piano is no longer the lead instrument, sharing time equally with everyone else, but when it's played there's less flowery runs and more punchiness. It's like Miller feels that he is running out of time, or something. The last cut, written by organist Rick Scott, takes on a somewhat new-agey feel through it's synth clouds. Perhaps this presages the crystal/jazz direction they went towards after Miller and Swope left. Supposedly Miller quit Mission of Burma because of his tinnitus, but Magnetic Flip is a loud record. Given the progression from Sproton Layer to MoB to BotM, you can certainly hear the sound of someone who is relentlessly looking for new directions in music; I suspect this need for self-reinvention was somewhat of a motivation for his departure from both bands. Of course the reformed Burma probably destroys that bit of pop-psychology. There's probably some good stuff in the post-Swope/Miller Birdsongs records just like there's probably some good jams on those late-70s Soft Machine records; but with all the other stuff out there to hear, I'll probably never find out for sure.

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