Italian by My Education (Review)

My Education still continues to evoke a strong response from me, which counts for something in a genre that has become increasingly glutted in recent years.
Italian - My Education

Is it too selfish to say that listening to My Education’s music allows me to revisit some glory days of mine? You see, several years ago, I was in one of those instrumental post-rock type bands with several other friends of mine. We practiced in crappy basements, strumming crappy guitars, and playing crappy synths. We recorded songs in the middle of winter, in a basement with no heat, on a beat up old Tascam 4-track using one mic for everything. And we were absolutely convinced that we were going to revolutionize Lincoln, Nebraska’s music scene.

Listening to My Education’s Italian, their follow-up to 2001’s 5 Popes, brings all of those feelings back to mind. There are obvious similarities. Like my band, My Education is also one of those instrumental, post-rock outfits that specialize in the slow-burn and the inevitable clashing climax, in shifting from delicate, ethereal guitar and keyboard interweavings to all-out sonic assaults in the blink of an eye. Listening to My Education makes me wonder what could have happened had my bandmates and I been a little more focused, a little older and wiser in our endeavors.

However, there’s a certain rawness, a certain (for lack of a better term) amateur-ness to My Education’s music that perfectly captures the naiveté and, well, joy that comes with playing this sort of indulgent music. This, in now way, is meant to be a dig at the band’s talent or pedigree. However, even though the band often wanders through the same sort of apocalyptic territory as Godspeed You Black Emperor! — indeed, the string-laden explosion at “Snake In the Grass” 5-minute mark almost feels like an aftershock from Lift Your Skinny Fists’s blow-outs — this rawness, this unabashed reveling in these sounds feels less like a mere act to cop a better known band’s sound, and more like a genuine thrill.

Case in point, “Plans A Through B,” the album’s standout track. In many ways, it’s your typical instrumental track. Begin with plucked guitars, sparse drums, the barest hints of feedback crackling along the edges, and some slowly simmering strings and organs somewhere in the backdrop to fill in the gaps. Build the tension — make the drumming more insistent, the guitars a little more raucous — until the very edge of bursting, and let it all explode in a glorious mess.

However, there are moments when the song suddenly shudders to a stop, checks itself, and completely changes direction — the violins take on a drunken Texas swagger and the song feels like it’s about to stumble over itself. Moments when, even in the midst of the awkward and sudden transition, or perhaps because of it, you get a slight thrill that stands the hairs up on your neck… or makes you break out the air guitar in an attempt to relive your own rock dreams.

The album does lag in places, and the relaxed, meandering pace lends a certain same-ness in its latter half, even if the sounds employed by the band almost always remain lovely (such as the sparse, watery piano melodies a la Harold Budd & Brian Eno’s The Pearl on “Puppy Love”). As such, it’s not quite as enjoyable as their previous EP (which was just recently re-issued by Thirty Ghosts Records), whose brevity and more dynamic nature makes it a stronger release. However, My Education still continues to evoke a strong response from me, which counts for something in a genre that has become increasingly glutted in recent years.