Boston's Mission of Burma has always defied easy categories. After scoring a sizable underground hit with its smartsy pop single, "Academy Fight Song," the group began to tour exclusively with art-rock and hardcore bands, then issued a 12-inch LP, "Signals Calls and Marches," that demonstrated the sincerity of these associations.

"Vs." similarly pursues diverse courses while maintaining a coherent, identifiable group sound. Peter Prescott's drumming provides a solid tempo and Clint Conley's bass lines a crucial melodic bass. Guitarist Roger Miller and soundman/tape manipulator Martin Swope undertake a variety of textural and rhythmic experiments.

Such songs as "Weatherbox" and "Train" are an intoxicating mixture of punk energy and artsy innovation tarted up with the instant accessibility that a pretty tune provides. "Dead Pool" is the kind of multi- layered drone R.E.M. lays claim to but has so far failed to deliver. Over a deep undertow of lyrical bass arpeggios and chanted vocals, Miller and Swope daub swirling guitars and abrupt snatches of taped conversation.

"Vs." unfortunately is as much a swan song as it is a debut. Following its current East Coast swing, Mission of Burma will disband owing to Roger Miller's hearing problems. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM MISSION OF BURMA -- Vs. (Ace of Hearts AHS 100010). THE CONCERT MISSION OF BURMA, Friday at 10 and midnight at the 9:30 Club.