One magical night in the mid-nineties some friends and I stumbled into Chicago’s Smart Bar (under the world famous Metro) for some Monday night drinking. The crowd was thin that night and we were early. To our surprise upon taking a booth against the wall we found that (the now defunct) Tower Records down the block had, for some promotional reason unknown to this day, left ‘goodie bags’ for the patrons at each table. Inside said goodie bags were honest to goodness CD’s – for free – so we set about finding what we’d won while knocking back Newcaastles. I walked away with a Kula Shaker album, which despite their previous records being fantastic, was simply awful*. Someone else in our little group might have gotten a Breeders disc. The oft-mentioned here Mr. Brown pulled a tidy little sampler that included, among other gems, an awesome song entitled ‘Sucker’ by a band we’d never heard of named ‘Self’. In the way of the conscientious, pre-Napster music-buyer, Mr. Brown went out and bought the album said track was from, a record that soon became a masterpiece to all of us that heard it. I’m speaking of course of Self’s 1999 Breakfast With Girls album and it wasn’t long before we were all buying the band’s albums at the local Record Swap or wherever and tapping our feet to one of the most interesting bands to hit the pop-rock nail on the head since Beck and the Dust Brothers conjured the candy-coated dissonance dagger they called Odelay a few years before. I myself acquired three Self albums (when I could find them) – three albums I dive into now and again and love with all my heart.
Now: Through no fault of their own Self became lost to me in the tidal-wave proliferation of music since good old skynet took over the world (I mean the internet. Jeez, sorry!). A couple times a year I pull their stuff out and always think, ‘Wow – I should see what these guys are up to now’. Somehow though, I always forget. (Just like I always forget to buy that new These Arms Are Snakes album, or replace my old copy of They Might Be Giants Lincoln that vanished in a house of ill repute I once rented with two friends.)
Well, today was the day. And as I found out today Matt Mahaffey and collaborators are still kicking. If you are unfamiliar with Self I strongly suggest you follow the link below and check out some of their music. The group, or Matt Mahaffey to be more accurate, is a musical wunderkind. Not to take anything away from his brother Mike, Jason Rawlings or any of the other contributors to the band, but it is most definitely Matt that is the heart of the band. As the linear notes of the aforementioned Breakfast album tells us, the man plays every instrument he owns and some he doesn’t. I’d be willing to bet that the ‘doesn’t’ part isn’t so much an issue these days. After stints touring with Beck** or working with all manner of other big, big names*** Mahaffey seems like the kind of guy who would spend a good deal of his lucre on more musical instruments and studio tech. It certainly sounds that way when you listen to some of the newer tracks posted on their recently reinvigorated website, many of which it appears you can download for free here:
What does Mahaffey’s musical genius sound like? Imagine a slick hybrid of They Might Be Giants, Beck and Roughly Enforcing Nostalgia**** – all manner of instruments and technologies combine in your typical Self song (which is indeed an oxymoron) and the combination usually takes an eclectic pop twist, so what you end up getting by way of the finished product is an unconventional patchwork of a song layered with instrumental complexity but perfectly juxtaposed with irresistible hooks that ingrain themselves in your memory and tend to (for me at least) put nice big smiles on your face. It’s not heavy music per se, but it’s not mellow either.
Check out the track below, ‘Meg Ryan’ – not exactly the track I would have picked for an introduction to the band, but a damn good one nonetheless. Of special note in this one is the use of the 80’s favorite keyboard, Casio’s SK-1; the strange, panning noises used for the breakdown, and the line referencing Mr. T.
How can you go wrong with Mr. T?
* Mystical Machine gun fire? Really?
** A very similar artist if you need something to give you an idea of
*** Production credits I’ve seen range from pink and Tenacious D to Michael Mann and Hanz Zimmer.
**** Great great great freakin’ band!!! Go hear them and give them your $$$ and your ears!!!