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Songs We Love: Vundabar, 'Tonight I'm Wearing Silk'

Vundabar's <em>Smell Smoke </em>comes out Feb. 23.
Tim Oxton
Courtesy of the artist
Vundabar's Smell Smoke comes out Feb. 23.

Boston loves playing inside baseball, and not just the kind at Fenway Park. The city boasts its own code of thick-tongued slang words and generational reverence. When it comes to its music scene, those nods run deep, appearing both decades ago and in its current roster. Math-rock weirdos Krill named a whole EP in honor of rock deity Pile; hip-hop artist Michael Christmas references fellow rapper OG Swaggerdick on single "Y'all Trippin"; and indie-rock group Speedy Ortiz has hidden a dozen band-referencing easter eggs in their music videos. With its new song, "Tonight I'm Wearing Silk," Vundabar joins the list by paying homage to what's arguably Boston's greatest post-punk act: Mission of Burma.

Since founding in 1979, Misson of Burma has followed an uncommon trajectory. The four-piece released one studio album, Vs., before summarily disbanding in 1983. Nearly two decades later they reunited, going on to release four records, and continue to perform to this day — yet theirreturn still sits in the shadow of their early singles, the biggest of which was "That's When I Reach For My Revolver." The opening song off their 1981 EP Signals, Calls, and Marches, the song was passed down among punk rock communities, eventually charting on the radio in the form of a 1996 cover by Moby.

On "Tonight I'm Wearing Silk," Vundabar play around with the titular line of that famed single, batting it between messy vocals and rattling guitar. It seems like a superfluous reference until the context is broken down. The often-mistranslated quote is attributed to Hermann Göring — "Whenever I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my revolver" — but Mission of Burma bassist Clint Conley liked it because it expressed the frustration of trying to transcend your place in life. In classic Vundabar style, the trio warps it into a song mocking the elite, with frontman Brandon Hagen stepping into the shoes of a hedonist as he tries to justify alcoholism, consolidate capital, and sleep soundly in an ivory tower made of human teeth. "I would swallow any stone it takes to trade the day away," he sings. "What route to choose just to delude / Vacation homes and Tanqueray."

The endearingly sloppy delivery of Vundabar's music makes the song's message all the more potent, as if its deluded protagonist doesn't realize his own ineptness. The rhythm section trots with a twitch in its step, the guitar jabs like it promised to keep its eyes closed in a sword fight. Every oddball act of elitism Hagen shouts about is followed by awkward instrumental pauses interjected haphazardly. It's a clear example of how Vundabar's part-art, part-surf pop-rock isn't just for fun — it's always been a way to enhance Hagen's lyrics. On "Tonight I'm Wearing Silk," it becomes a technical choice that emphasizes the gap between giving and taking. "That's when I reach for my resolver / That's when I think I get the joke," Hagen drones one last time. Silk-clad megalomaniacs threatened by culture who rob the middle class? It rang a bell back when Mission of Burma formed. It's still ringing loudly today.

Smell Smokecomes out Feb. 23 viaGawk.

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