Developed over two years of live performances, the album version of My Education's score for F.W. Murnau's silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans plays like the band on the best night of its life. Supremely well recorded (at Austin's Headbump Studios), the group always sounds united in its purpose on Sunrise even as the instruments change roles and the moods shift. Music this subtle seldom sounds gripping and nuanced in digital formats, so special credit should be given to recorders The Bump Boyz and mixers Jason Bunch and Chris Smith. I would still be overjoyed if somebody sent me the vinyl, but as a digital release this is the best-sounding local disc I've heard this year.
My Education's post-rock influences are obvious (and enough with the vibraphones, already!) but they're able to change focus more easily than some of their inspirations. The apocalyptic drone-and-release of Godspeed You Black Emperor! figures heavily on "Sunset" and "A Man Alone," but the band is versatile enough to construct songs around folk melodies and seductive rhythms as well. They give simplicity a fair airing in addition to pure mass, reminiscent of the great Dirty Three. My Education seems to have an innate understanding of how the listener will sometimes attach emotionally to a certain figure, and the whole band works in concert to pay those lines off, no matter from which instrument they originate. "Lust" works for all of its nine minutes because of the band's tricky musical calculus; rather than following a straight line of constant slope from soft to loud they cycle forward and back off, pull together and fall apart. It's not easy for instrumental bands to operate this sensitively, particularly with the expanded lineup My Education here employs.
I believe many bands sometimes rush to record before giving their material enough time to mature on stage, and the consistent quality of Sunrise bears out this thinking. The musicians have played these themes often enough that their own parts are internalized to the degree that what they really listen for is the rest of the instruments. They've become a band, as well they should have after a decade together.
That brings me to my one reservation about these live-score projects in general. I like the way that composing film music forces a band out of its usual process. But I don't like the idea that music is something that you sit and absorb passively. Listening to Sunrise at home, particularly the dizzy upbeats of "Heave Oars," I want to get up and move around. I don't really want to go see this band and have to sit in a seat and get shushed if I clap or hum along.