For a teenager in the early post-Nirvana days searching for the next life-changing band, the debut album from Self was a gold mine.
It had everything. Some tracks had the classic quiet-loud structure that made grunge work. Others had the synths and sampled drums that were making stars of bands like Portishead and Massive Attack. Even the album’s title was perfect for the 90s: Subliminal Plastic Motives. Sounds like the title of a Radiohead documentary.
I attached myself firmly to this album. I listened repeatedly, I told anyone who would listen (and even some who wouldn’t) that Self, aka Matt Mahaffey, was going to be the next big thing. I was convinced that his combination of samples and live instruments was going to be the new sound.
But I was wrong. Mahaffey has certainly made a career for himself in music, as a producer, composer, and session musician…but he didn’t become the big thing I was sure he was poised to become.
I was right about one thing, however: the combination of samples and live instruments was going to be the sound that would move mainstream music forward as the 21st century loomed. It just wouldn’t be Self who would popularize it. That would come from Beck, whose decade-defining album, Odelay, would be released less than a year after this one.
Oh, and playing organ on Beck’s seminal album? Matt Mahaffey.
What makes this a beautiful song:
1. At 1:01, when he sings the words, “thinking backwards through the glass,” the glockenspiel track is played in reverse, sounding much like backwards glass.
2. By my count, this is the third track posted on this blog with a 7/4 time signature. (See this one, and this one.) But the difference here is that on top of the odd time signature, the beat is syncopated. It’s like your ears are getting up to dance, but their shoelaces are tied together.
3. The sudden ending, with a weird vocal harmony that leaves me, as this album did, wanting more.
Recommended listening activity:
Reading last year’s horoscope to see how accurate it was.