The Austin-based instrumental quintet My Education composes wordless songs through vast, gorgeously orchestrated soundscapes. From squealing electric guitar wails to screeching viola yelps, the band's music has all the vocals it needs, drawing its narrative tension from ambient dischord.
Each track on the group's new album, Bad Vibrations, offers a buildup and release that's equally commanding and cathartic. But with all the musical strife, much of the album proves tranquil and soothing in its atmospheric nature, as the band paints a beautiful musical picture with layers of brooding instrumentation.
The album's title track places a simple, rhythmically strummed and picked acoustic guitar against a rich orchestra of floating strings and ambient keyboard dips and swells. The composition creates a vivid aural landscape, lending the song an ethereal feel. This lush tapestry of sound proves mesmerizing for its eight-minute entirety.
My Education has gone through several personnel changes over the years, but the group was originally formed as a trio in 1999. Bad Vibrations is the group's fourth official album, but its first for the band's new label, Strange Attractors. The band has a number of shows on its schedule this summer, including a West Coast tour.The Silent Ballet
My Education make it easy for us by starting off Bad Vibrations with such a track. "This Old House" introduces the Texan quintet's newest offering by way of repetitive guitar lines and bass drums. The background contains stray sounds -- a vibraphone, viola, careening ambience -- folding ever so smoothly into the mix. At over eight minutes in length, "This Old House" is the longest My Education has to offer on Bad Vibrations, and as it progresses the instruments steadily increase in volume and are forced to birth a swelling climax. The bass drum gradually makes its way to the foreground, pounding out a vitriolic beat, and is soon joined by guitars spiraling out of control with monstrous effects. So the stage is set; My Education announces its blend of post-rock cum psychedelic-gypsy-folk with no real heed given to traditional methods.
There's some discrepancy about which "album" Bad Vibrations is in the band's catalog. Their website claims it to be a fourth, yet I consider the excellent 5 Popes and Moody Dipper to be extended plays, and would call this a second album. It's all splitting hairs though; unlike many, My Education doesn't restrict refining their sound to albums and have progressed steadily along smaller releases. 5 Popes, the band's debut (we'll all agree), presented them as a pretty standard post-rock band in a post-Mogwai world. Although an accomplished CD, it hadn't quite cemented them into their niche in the instrumental rock world. Italian followed four years later in 2005, containing some outstandingly creative music ("Snake in the Grass" & "Green Arrow" in particular) and witnessing the band move towards a more distinct sound. This was also when the violin was dropped from the lineup, leaving only the viola as the sole non-guitar string instrument. The flip side of Italian was that it caught the band mid jump into their new sound and did come off as somewhat of an identity crisis. Moody Dipper showed strong progression again, dipping their feet into more experimental waters and sounding more spontaneous with their writing process. Hints of classical influence also began to creep up into the framework, as well as a strong dependence on folk structures, putting them in a league with Dirty Three and (early) Grails.
Bad Vibrations is the moment in time where My Education has reached its full potential and can rightfully claim to be called leaders, not followers, in the instrumental world. Built upon foundations of post-rock and psych rock, both are safely cleared by the completion of the disc to give the feeling that a new height has been reached during the span of the album. What transpires is something that is less post-rock and less psychedelic than most of their peers. There is some similarity to be found with some of the dusty U.S. brethren such as Japancakes or Foxhole on occasion, as well as some classically inclined segments, but the leading story is that My Education has come to town, they've brought their own sound, and anyone within earshot is going to have to take notice.
"Arch" is arguably the most standard post-rock track on the new album, perhaps calling back to the days of 5 Popes. An elaborate game of cat and mouse occurs between the viola and rhythm guitars. The first half of the track has the viola as the dedicated lead. It swiftly moves through galloping drums, cool vibraphones, and obedient guitars. Several times the guitars threaten to take the lead, but are beaten back on each occasion. The pattern continues -- viola soars skyward and the guitars bring it back down to earth. Then the switch occurs; the pattern is broken quite literally and the guitars begin their massive accumulation of noise. The viola is immersed in the noise, recklessly flailing to keep its position in the piece but inevitably overcome by the gigantic wall of sound. As the final waves comes crashing down to wipe the sonic landscape clean of foreign noise, no sounds can be heard except the raw screeching of the mighty guitars.
"Britches Blanket" is the second shortest full track on the album, but it doesn't skimp out on any dramatics. It begins with some pretty, flower composition utilizing plucked guitar and viola intertwining to marvelous effect. If my ears aren't deceiving me I also hear the occasional cry of a pedal steel, which plays contently in the background with the vibraphone and piano. For the most part, the vibes are kept as auxiliary support; this greatly complements My Education's style, but the rogue inside me wonders what they could do with some fanatical vibe-playing. All is nice and innocent, but not really as electrifying as the first two tracks. My Education balances the forces of energy well, never being heavy handed with explosive effects or too languid with their guitar noodling. Just as we start to suspect that "Britches Blanket" is fading into the latter, in comes a dynamic shift to shake things up that would make Red Sparowes proud. The sudden onset is sure to take even the most experienced listener by surprise and maybe even knock a few clear out of their seats. A melange of instrumentation hits the proverbial fan as the guitars have their first real psychedelic freak out of the album. Doors are blown wide open, windows shattered...this old house is getting rocked.
My Education returns to the template of "This Old House" on "Mother May I." The track is cyclical and more minimal than its surrounding neighbors, which allows greater use of the pedal-steel, providing a nice contrast to the lunging viola with wavering shrieks and high strung tension. The build reaches a more impressive zenith, one that is more vibrant and filled with shimmering ambience than the pulsating climax of "This Old House." It's this scorching finale that shrugs off the Japancakes sound and reaches for new heights, while simultaneously reconnecting with the albums larger arch. "Aria," the shortest track on the album, digs into darker soil with a spotlight on the haunting notes of the piano. Throw in a stunning burst of energy from the viola and we've got an unexpected playful side emerging in the middle of Bad Vibrations. The spirited sounds continue through "Sluts and Maniacs," which sound vaguely like Cue hijacked by a bunch of bandits, the violin sadly broken in the process.
The album ends with the title track. Another twist emerges when the band slyly exists the stage on an ambient note. Although My Education certainly enjoys rocking out, as at least four of the tracks have shown, "Bad Vibrations" seeks to find a different level of clarity. The tone is different; it's a brighter, lighter piece that almost conceptually separates itself from the work that precedes it. In actuality, the album returns full circle to where it started, at its center. This track is the last piece of the puzzle, providing a strong connection between the ambient works that provide much of the backbone and subtle undertones to My Education's work. Guitars and pedal-steel join the keyboard in the noise making, but, as if often the case with these types of tracks, everything melts into one singular entity, morphing and evolving as time progresses.
Two thoughts strike me as the album closes. First is that even though the album is filled with strong tracks, none of them overpower the others. My Education has carefully selected which to include on this outing and the album is greatly unified behind a common purpose. Sure, personal favorites are bound to pop up from person to person, but I can't imagine one becoming the universal favorite over another. Each makes its case quite convincingly when it needs to, but none of the tracks really sound like they want to be the "the best" anyway. This is great craftsmanship, and should be noted. Secondly is the maturity of the band since its last album (Italian). They've come a long way since 2005 and any returning fan should be able to acknowledge that this is their finest moment yet. Even with some extra hands in the studio, nothing sounds out of place or unnatural to their setup. Bad Vibrations is a smooth ride from beginning to end.
As the album concludes, a real sense of accomplishment settles onto the album. My Education have quite possibly made an album that looks at the post-rock envelope sitting on the table and pushes it a little bit, if only a tiny amount. Or maybe they ignore the envelope all together and hurries back into the rehearsal space to get working on their next album. At worst, Bad Vibrations is a picturesque album that highlights how great post-rock sounds when executed so precisely and shall be widely sought after by champions of the genre. At best, the album is something much more: a truly unique creative statement. Whatever the verdict, there's nothing bad in these vibrations.
-Jordan VolzThe Stranger
Leave it to the sprawling landscapes of Texas to inspire an album that unfolds with the relaxed pace of a tall tale told at a campfire. With their fourth full-length, Bad Vibrations, Austin's My Education tell wordless stories without falling prey to the failures endemic to much instrumental post-rock. Their repetition is a slow build instead of a tedious drone, free of pretentious noodling, and the emotional palette is more nuanced than a simplistic "quiet equals lonely, loud equals angry." Instead, the album deals in mixed moods, giving its concepts time to reach fruition, with moments of tenderness and hope balancing out the occasional wrath.
Bad Vibrations opens with "This Old House," a plodding affair driven primarily by a combination of bass drum, viola, and strummed guitar. As with most of the album, this one doesn't climax so much as reach a logical conclusion, gently adding layers over the track's length (almost eight and a half minutes; only one song on the album comes in under five) before drifting back into silence. That confident patience allows songs to expand at their own unrushed pace. The viola adds some interest to the old quiet/loud/quiet dynamic—strings eventually give way to guitar squalls on "Arch" and "Britches Blanket," while "Aria" inverts the relationship with insistent viola dominating the fuzz. "Sluts and Maniacs" draws from both post-rock schools, starting with piano-led jazz-leaning groove (think Tortoise) before shifting to a guitarcentric wall of noise (think Explosions in the Sky) that, while it might not be the world's most epic, is one of few accompanied by vibraphone.
The album sunsets with the country-tinged title track, and the untitled hidden track merely brings the point homethe sounds of a crackling fire providing respite from the previous hour's pleasurable but emotionally taxing journey.austin.com
The drawing on the cover of My Education's Bad Vibrations seems to capture a man enjoying the wanton bliss of a thrilling acid trip at that exact moment where it turns bad. He just doesn't know it yet.
The slow build-up of the seven instrumental numbers borders on ecstatic. Simple melodies are adorned with nuances of vibraphone, organ, pedal steel, accordion, and viola. The repetitive nature gives cuts time to comfortably set into a listener's psyche. So comfortable that you forget the inevitable upheaval around the corner. The wall of symphonic distortion that bombards creates the contrast between calm, blue water and a deadly tempest.
By the time we reach the seemingly perpetual climax of "Arch," with it's chorus of crashing ride cymbals clattering like a flock of birds warding off an intruder, it's hard to remember where the song started. The come-down number "Britches Blanket" follows. And like most of the album, the descending guitar fingerpicking riff at the forefront helps obscure where one track begins and the other ends. The collapse at the end of "Britches" is so sudden and fierce, it would seem impossible to recover. Yet, the repetitive descending guitar returns, a lonely viola dances around it, and the build-up begins again.
With their fourth full-length, he six-piece My Education continues to strengthen the instrumental, post-psychedelic scene that has grabbed firm footing in Austin. While compatriots Explosions in the Sky have reached breakout success already, Bad Vibrations gives My Education magnum opus to follow suit.
"Moody Dipper"Spacelab Music Reviews
Slowing and flowing. My Education is definitely in no hurry to make its musical point. On Moody Dipper, they layout a number of slow build songs that layer sounds on top of each other to create an organic and ambient build, with each layer making the song more epic than the last. They've brought in remix help from Dalek, Kinski, Red Sparrowes, and Teith, and the result is a lot of varied takes on what My Education has laid out.
On Green Arrow, distorted viola sounds come across like pastoral bagpipes and steady drums, almost sounding like they're from two different songs. The drums plod along with steady intensity, midtempo, always lively. The viola, by contrast, is slow and flowing. By the time the electric guitar comes in, we've got a mountain of sound. Then it all cuts out suddenly, begging for your attention, asking in a whisper. When it comes back, full mountain projection, it has a wall of sound to knock you over. The effect is moving. This song is a remix done by Dalek, who deserves some props on orchestration and crafting the structure of the song.
The Kinski remix of Puppy Love is another grandiose sort of build — it's got more orchestral strings, but the drums explode halfway through into a sort of drum and bass explosion in a fireworks factory. Furious and frenetic, moving, and all the while underneath the string movement on top of them. There's some of the electric guitar here too, curiously placed at key moments to work with the strings, in tandem. This one does another fantastic rise to glory over its 7 and half minute life span, but climaxes before the end, leaving a sustaining aftermath of of strings humming along to take you back down slowly.
This whole project was brought about as a way to introduce My Education to new people through a remix album. All of those in remix attendance have done a deft job of doing just that, taking songs that were already good and making them different, reinterpreted through the eyes of the remixer. Try this album for a deviation from normalness and average sounds; you'll get something different and spacial that rewards you over and over agin with each listen.
the Austin Chronicle
There must be something on the air, or in it, to explain the space rock blooming in central Texas. This Austin sextet expands on the arc-riff grandeur or local travelers Explosions in the Sky with John Cale-like viola and simple, rising melodies that take you way up and out. My Surprise find at SXSW this year, My Education are advanced ecstasy.
- David Fricke
A primary tenet of screenwriting, and by extension, film, is starting scenes
with the action already in full swing. "Snake in the Grass," opening My Education's long-awaited sophomore LP,
does just that, the conversation between drums, piano, and viola taking on an immediate cinematic quality, as if
excerpted from an Italian film score. The pattern is then set: begin with a tender étude, end in an ensemble flare.
Mediterranean pacing – languid (James Alexander's viola), sweeping (Kirk Laktas' keys), quick to burn (guitarists Chris Hackstie and Brian Purington) – meets Sicilian consequence ("Plans A Through B"). The local sextet's sonic miasma has coagulated since 2001's comparatively lithe 5 Popes. The classical coating of "Thanksgiving," cradled in the rhythmic undercarriage of Eric Gibbons' bass and Sean Seagler's percussion, thickens to a crescendo by meal's end. The anxious, wheedling cry of Alexander's viola unsettles the ambient drone of "(Polyphonic Walnuts) Puppy Love," shifting into the inclement séance of "Texas Style." The third act ("Dirty Hands," "Green Arrow") drags – blurred, drifting – but the 12-minute closer, approaching the nuclear testing of Kinski, crystallizes in a more
delicate center. Italian is paced like said nationality's filmography, and as such, it lingers long after.
- Raoul Hernandez
Expectations are always high for me when I hear a new
band that calls Austin, Texas its home. After all Austin not only has one of the coolest and largest music
gatherings every year in South By Southwest but also boasts some of the best and brightest bands out there.
So when I heard My Education my jaw dropped at how incredibly talented this group is. A six-piece that forges
instrumental music that are more about movements than mainstream pop-rock, My Education is a college on what
you can do right when you sit down to put some songs to tape. Their instruments seem as if they’re one with
the player somehow co-existing on this plane of reality unlike any other musician out there. Chris Smith
engineered the album and was a superb choice for this band as his previous work includes the likes of Explosions In
the Sky (another amazing instrumental group from Austin), …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead,
and Rhythm of Black Lines. When they embark on a tour near my hometown you know I’ll be first in line so
I can watch pure genius emanate from human beings on stage.
"5 Popes"delusions of adequacy
Recently, there have been a few bands in the indie scene that have taken their level of composition up several notches. The Appleseed Cast and Ativin both come to mind as bands on the forefront of putting mood and tone as a priority over a particular structure. With this strategy, these bands have not only improved their sound, but have also helped take the indie scene in a new and exciting direction. Although the recently released material by these groups is exciting and cutting edge, there is another group that could give these mood masters a run for their money. My Education is a 7-piece band out of Austin, TX that has just released a self-titled EP that should open some eyes in the indie scene and make some labels take a look. Their sound is firmly rooted in the indie-rock style, yet the subtext of their EP adds somewhat of a grand feel to the mix. The band seems to have gotten their sound down to a science. The EP features a beautiful mood, cascading guitar lines, and intriguing atmospherics to boot. There are no vocals on the record, but that does not lessen the effect of the sound on the listener. In fact, the band does such a great job of immersing the EP in its wondrous sound that vocals could possibly even act as a distraction. "Concentration Waltz," the first track on the EP, opens quietly. It's reminiscent of some of the 80's albums of The Cure in terms of mood. The guitars sound alive and fresh as their light tones invoke feelings that most records can't touch. "Lesson 3" follows down the same trail that "Concentration Waltz" started the record on. It's an equally beautiful track chock full of delicate instrumentation and feeling. Things do get a bit more intense though as the volume cranks up about midway through the song right when every instrument seems to be hitting it's stride. Very nice! "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a head-nodding, rocking number that changes the pace a bit, but it isn't quite as appealing as the previous tracks. Although the song is tightly played, it doesn't seem to suit them as well as the more atmospheric material. Following that track, "Deep Cut" and "Crime Story" are more akin to the first tracks on the EP and come off like a warm blanket of sound to the listener. They feature an equal amount of delicate instrumentation. The synth sounds are more at the forefront on these numbers and add to the already engaging mood of the EP. Although this record is self released, and therefore possibly hard to find, fans of atmospheric indie rock should take the time to track this release down. Their "Education" is one worth knowing about.www.mundanesounds.com/
Sometimes things that seem to be knock-offs tend to be better than the things they immulate. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who taught me that better doesn't necessarily have to mean more expensive. For example, the companies expensive brands of cigarettes that I would smoke would also make cheaper cigarettes, often using the same tobacco. Potato chips, especially BBQ-flavored, would often be more filling and much tastier than the premium-quality chips. Same thing with colas. Why pay a buck for a name-brand drink, when, for the same price, you can often buy two or three, if not more, of a store-brand that tastes virtually the same? Occasionally, though, this idea can apply to bands. My Education is an eight-piece Austin band who, if anything, bear a terrible resemblence to a band called Godspeed! You Black Emperor, as well as to their local comrades Explosions in the Sky. My Education, whose members have been in other notable bands, including Godspeed labelmates Stars of the Lid, are no mere rehash of pre-established styles, nor do they sound like mere knock-offs. Taken by themselves, the songs on 5 Popes could easily fool the unsuspecting hipster. 5 Popes is My Education's self-released debut, and, to be honest, a finer debut couldn't possibly be found. Shimmery guitars, dosed with a heaping helping of atmosphere and a hint of that wonderful Texas psychedelia is the general course of action for My Education. Starting with the increasingly dramatic waltz beat of "Concentration Waltz," the song builds up and up and up into heaven and is returned safely to the ground. Moving into "Lesson 3," the gentle guitars blossom into a loud, mind-expanding symphony. "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a more "straightforward" "rock" "song," that quietly fades to silence. And so the style continues with "Deep Cut," until the final number "Crime Story" which is clearly as grand and epic as you would expect; after all, with it being the final song, you would expect a Very Big Finish, and My Education do not disappoint. If Godspeed You Black Emperor! are tapped in to the desolate and dark nature of northern Canada, and Explosions in the Sky channel their arid West Texas background, then My Education are surely the sound of Central Texas. Their music captures the big skies of the Texas flatlands, while also blending in the dark, empty spaces of the woodlands of East Texas. 5 Popes is the sound of two barren regions coming together--a blend of sky and forest, emptiness from above, and isolation and loss from below. My Education are surely a band to pay attention to; no mere imitators of style are they--for the sound that they have found is, indeed, all their own.
It's really difficult to criticize an instrumental album -- the band can play, obviously, if the band members are making noise, and if the band creates dissonance, who's to say the players are not imitating Philip Glass or Arnold Schoenberg? The most pleasing of these albums are the ones with obvious melody, as the critical benchmarks are easy to rate: is the band in tune, do all the band members sound like they know their instrument, do they do anything funky with it. 5 Popes is My Education's definitively positive answer to all of those questions. "Concentration Waltz" noodles about with a few chords and employs crashing reverb in an imitation of Hendrix at his most stoned, piling all of the notes into a mountainous crescendo before settling out onto a flat, chiming melodic plain. The drum continues to pound out its unchanging rhythm, a one-color weft to the multi-hued warp of guitars. "Lesson 3" is slower, pensive and wistful, like the best of '70s prog-rock bands fiddling around after a long recording session, attempting to create a hidden track. The guitars and bass roar and crash in the background while once again the drummer, Sean Segler, plays his kit like he's at a practice session. He sounds as though he has been promised a cup of tea at the song's end and is thumping his heart out for it, without variation in tempo -- it's a good thing, really, anchoring the wildness of the guitars and the god bass. "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" sounds a bit like the opening to Jeff Buckley's "Grace", and the sharp melding of chords bears an aural resemblance to a waterfall -- it's the rushing together of noise. "Deep Cut"'s violin adds a mournfulness that's so mood indigo it's inky. All of the songs share melodic ideas, so they flow well, like one long orchestral piece, allowing the listener to hear the individual ideas in each song more clearly. 5 Popes' thematic thrust is as enigmatic as its title, but the music is also relaxing enough that you can enjoy it while you get the ideas that you want from each track. Listening will be an education.
My Education - 5 Popes (Independently released CD, Guitar/instrumental) Five lengthy compositions featuring swirling guitars and cerebral rhythms. Austin's My Education has a sound that reminds us of Tristeza. The overall mood of the song takes precedence here. There are no easily discernible melodies. The band's chord progression mania builds in intensity and shifts in levels during the execution of their songs. "Concentration Waltz" is an appropriately titled dittie that'll wash your brain out and leave you laying underneath the kitchen tank. "Lesson 3" is more subtle at times, while still allowing the band to rock out (rather than "rock in"). "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a strange excursion and contains some noisy moments. "Deep Cut" is a beautifully moody piece and definitely our favorite. The album closes with "Crime Story," with its many shifts in tone and almost orchestral layering. Really cool guitar maneuvering here, but this CD probably isn't easy to find. Best bet is to e-mail the band at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neat! (Rating: 4+++)
Guitars picking pretty melodies, carefully decorated with piano or viola, rising majestically to a full climax before gently reclining against a pillow of white noise, cradling you to sleep. It is as formulaic as genrification itself, and yet if done well, post-rock (if you must call it that) can either seize your attention or raise hairs you weren't aware needed shaving. And although it's not math-rock (again, if you must), there seems to be an equation at work that bears elaboration before solution. The 5 Popes EP opens with "Concentration Waltz," a tune that plays to the band's dynamic strengths while showcasing a tuneful approach. A three-chord waltz slowly gives way to guitar tracks that ascend the scale proportional to their volume, aided by minimal drumming that might be content to wallow in the fuzz. As the zenith is reached, the guitars begin a mellow descent from their dizzying heights, touching the ground only after stretching out to explore a bridge that serves as a comedown. "Lesson 3" tackles similar terrain, bringing an explosive chorus sooner than expected, then settling back into a loping gait with keyboard flourishes before revisiting the chorus once again. "Nightrider Meets the Waterfall" is a more upbeat offering, but somehow it sounds awfully close to a pre-Kid A-era Radiohead outtake (maybe "Airbag"?), not that this should be considered a drawback. "Deep Cut" combines an A-B pattern with crescendos, each section gaining momentum as it approaches the inevitable blast of volume that signals the pinnacle of each song. There is almost a reprise toward the end of the blast, but it tenderly fizzles out instead, effects pedals mercifully released from delayed captivity. The closer, "Crime Story," charts the same route explored by its predecessors, countermelodies shifting through the hazy din, searching for a new path to follow. One highlight on this number is the viola, which seers above the effects-driven guitar lines, not unlike Papa John Creach so many years ago during the tail end of Jefferson Airplane's flight. It's the soft-loud dynamics, the picked single-note guitar lines, the rise and fall of instrumental rock music that makes this EP enjoyable, yet predictable. The songs are compelling and lovely, if lacking the knockout punch that would make them irresistible. However, the sonic delights of the band should not simply be overlooked because of this. My Education can be excused if their sound is not breaking any new ground, as long as they are doing such an exceptional job on the land/soundscaping. Recommended If You Like: Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, etc...