Starting off my Top 10 list for this year has got to be Austin post-rockers, My Education. It is not very often that I am so utterly impressed with a new post-rock album (most of it, nowadays especially, just sounds like a carbon copy of albums Mogwai and Red Sparrowes have released half a decade ago), but with their fourth release, these guys have really got my blood pumping. They come from quite a pedigree: members of Stars of the Lid, ST37 and Cinders, My Education has toured endlessly over the last few years with other post-rock darlings Pelican, Dälek and even Red Sparrowes themselves. They also have completely embraced the orchestral quality of their music in composing an original score for F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a step further into the core of post-rock than even Mogwai has gone with their soundtracks for The Fountain and Zidane.
The music on Bad Vibrations, as one might expect from a band with chops enough to lay down silent film scores, is built of soaring strings and layered acoustic and subtley crunchy guitars, backed with chimes, twinkling pianos, and marching snares. Even a lapsteel makes a guest appearance on a few tracks, maybe borrowed from their Sparrowe buddies? Of course, the screaming guitar solos occaisonally peak through, but they are treated less as a cock-comparing contest as in much rock music and more as just another instrument in the orchestra with its chance to shine. And when those solos distort to the point of static, the noise is just as beautiful as the delicate string arrangements.
To fully appreciate My Education's approach to music, it might be helpful to know the origin of their name: My Education: A Book of Dreams, the final memoir/novel published by William S. Burroughs in 1995 that collects a selection of his dreams from 1959 on. It is, as Wikipedia would have me know, his most mellow and mature work, with a far more sedate outlook on writing, allowing descriptions time to develop, ideas time to fester. If ever there were a more fitting name for a band of My Education's stock, I do not know it. Each of their songs is a miniature soundtrack to life, building up from nothing until they become almost unbearably real, intensity personified in the thundering drumming and searing guitars before it fades again, slowly dying into the calm, then silence silence, letting the next track be born.
And so, as the Best Post-Rock Album released this year--better even, I'd argue, in its variation and surprisingly fresh approach to the genre, than Russian Circles' long-awaited Station, My Education's Bad Vibrations takes the first spot in my Top 10 Albums of 2008. And so it begins.
My Education - Bad Vibrations