Thursday, May 24, 2012
Classic Album Review - Self - Subliminal Plastic Motives
It was a very rough time in my life. I was a year or two into a new marriage that wasn’t going well and there seemed be very little exciting or colorful in my life. One day I was headed over to my grandfather’s to do some woodworking and happened to have the radio on the hot new alternative station. Instead of hearing the usual pabulum a song caught me ear, I mean REALLY caught me ear to the point that I realized that it had been a long time since I had purchased any CDs and even longer since music had made me excited. That song was “Cannon” by Self. I later learned that Matt Mahaffey, the brain behind the one-man band, disses this song because of its simplicity, saying that any number of bands from his hometown of Boston could have written it but I disagree. The song is an explosion of energy, starting with quietly strummed guitars in the verse before feedback and distortion in the chorus disrupt the carefully laid plans. However the thing that sets the song apart, and which I think makes it uniquely Self, is the bridge, a quirky, jumpy, detuned passage that segues into a watery kazoo-like version of the bridge. It was completely different than anything else I had heard on that station and fortunately they either said the name of the song and band or else I was excited enough to call the station upon my arrival. Of course my local record store didn’t have this in stock (and since this was 1995 I think I just started using e-mail… Amazon.com or instant downloads were a long ways away) so I had to order it and wait. You kids these days and your instant gratification… When it arrived I was delightfully not disappointed to own a one-hit wonder. In fact, most of the album was even better than “Cannon!” Subliminal Plastic Motives was a superb mish-mash of power-pop, metal, prog, alternative, funk, and hip-hop. Hip-hop? I would have never guessed that I would be listening to anything even remotely hip-hoppish but there I was, listening and loving it. As a disclaimer may I add that I’ve yet to moved by anything else in that genre, though my love of funky rock predates this album and continues to thrive. Back to the review, eh? Each song is intelligently written, often with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and a sly wink at rhythm. The “progressive” aspect is a playful use of non-traditional meter that adds greater interest, at least to my ears. Heavy guitars abound as do layers of vocal harmonies, betraying Self’s love of the band Queen. Jellyfish and 10cc are also worshipped. Truly a studio-rat album, there are layers underneath each lovingly crafted layer. I suppose I could write about each song but that would be boring. Listening to the album with my magic headphones I’m impressed again at the fuzzed out bass, sudden and unorthodox instrument choices (walls of guitars give way to pianos and strings), and how Mahaffey manages to stuff so much into each song while retaining clarity and vitality. Matt Mahaffey’s follow-up album was much more hip-hop, less progressive and less ingenius, meaning that it didn’t do as much for me but it’s still a fairly good album. He also made songs each of the Shrek movies and an album recorded completely with toy instruments (including the awesome earwig Trunk Fulla Amps in which the edited version is much more enjoyable than the explicit naughty-word version. Then he did an album with the guy from God Lives Underwater (to be reviewed later) and has otherwise not put out CDs for me to buy. SHAME!