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Spongebath Records

Weird how things happen. In the midst of a early summertime musical drought, where the airwaves were thick with the usual snotty aggroraprockbizkitbullshit that's come to be known as the Alternative Rock Format, I regressed into old familiarity--digging through treasures from the past waiting faithfully for me in my storage bins. Crusty Leaving Trains discs, Pixies that led me to Frank Black and the Catholics...the list could go on and on, but I wanna tell you about this band called Self because their new record, Gizmodgery has affected me the way brand new musical discoveries always do. The first kiss from a new girlfriend is the only thing that surpasses the joy of hearing a band that you love for the first time, or, hearing something new that you love from a band you've heard before. The latter is the case with Self.

As I was digging through my storage in quiet desperation, I came across a promo copy of Self's Subliminal Plastic Motives, their 1995 release that came to me by way of Zoo Music, which is a part of the BMG German Mafia music distribution operation. Zoo has an office in Nashville, and they must have had their ears on Self, whose base of operations is not so far away in Murfreesboro, TN. The disc came in late October of '95, and my booze-addled recollection pulls this information up only because I remember having a very brief discussion about Self in an Italian restaurant somewhere near the Santa Monica Beach with a guy from Capricorn Records, which is also in Nashville. We were both much more interested in talking about Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside, and the living historical blues exhibit known as Northern Mississippi than we were about Self. Subliminal Plastic Motives didn't have anything that grabbed me at the time, and musically, it didn't stand out from the rest of the rabble in any way. What I found to be most notable about Self at the time was the brilliant packaging that they wrapped around their recordings. I had them figured as a bunch of art-design majors that also made decent music. For some reason I confused them with Ben Folds Five, and I still don't know why. Subliminal Plastic Motives had some nice hooks and plenty of fancy footwork, but no knockout punches. Into storage it went.

So here it was, nearly five years later, and with nothing new to listen to, I gave Subliminal Plastic Motives another shot. Maybe I hadn't listened closely enough, I thought, maybe I was too into Northern Mississippi Blues at the time, maybe pop had no chance with me back then. So I listened...and I listened again...and back into storage it went.

A week or so ago I was surfing the net of looking at new releases and saw that Self was back with something called Gizmodgery, and decided I would pick it up...and wow. Supposedly, the whole thing was performed with toy instruments, yeah, you know, Fisher-Price shit. There are places on this disc where the toy instrument claim sounds about as credible as Al Gore's claim to have invented the world wide web, because it's just too fucking good. There are a lot of peripheral bleeps, blorps, tinkles, tweets and Tickle Me Elmo RoboBabble that wallpaper the sonic backdrops. But how they got those tones from toy bass and electric guitars...I just don't get it, Bubba. That Matt Mahaffey, leader of Self, must be some sorta mad scientist. On "iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou", Mahaffey pulls a guitar solo out in the middle of the song that's pure Brian May, and imagine what Brian's reaction to the toy instrument claim might be..."Bloody hell...it took me years to hand carve and build me own guitars from scratch, and I picked the strings not with plastic picks, but with fucking coins I collected from all over Europe to get those excellent tones, and these stumpjumpers from Tennessee are able to get those sounds with FUCKING TOYS?!"

Queen, it seems, is one of many sources of influence that Self draws upon. Besides the occasional Brian May guitar solo, Freddie Mercury gets a direct reference in "Trunk Fulla Amps", along with ELO (?!...I haven't had a single thought about ELO in years...) Glenn Danzig and Lenny Kravitz. I'm not gonna tell you what happens...that'd be like burning a nice juicy steak, but I will say this..."Trunk Fulla Amps" is a damn funny song and a great piece of work. You can dance to it, too, even if you're an uncoordinated white guy from Wisconsin, like me. Given the proper exposure, this could be a MONSTER CLUB HIT, I shit you not. What club fulla drunken frat guy n' girls isn't gonna looooove singing along with a chorus like "I've gotta trunk fulla amps, muthafucka..." over and over and over. C'mon, admit it...you'd love it too, all you moms and dads in the funky-ass SUV's, stuck in traffic on the way home from your horribly necessary day jobs...by god, I see bumper stickers and tee-shirts and ...yeah...America is crass enough to run with this one. But if I were running the show, "Trunk Fulla Amps" would be the b-side to the a-side potential sure-thing hit "Dead Man", a radio-friendly pop rocker that bounces along merrily with a key-of goofy rhythm that serves as the perfect Trojan Horse that carries inside of it the classic glock-in-the-back-pocket line "Behind every woman there's a good man, trying not to put their head out..." How's that for a slogan, fellas?

Influences abound on Gizmodgery, and they all bear mention because the pleasure of eating a good soup is even more enjoyable if you know what's in it and you understand how all the ingredients combine to provide tha flava. Mahaffey loves his record collection...many of the keyboard compositions bring Greg Hawkes of The Cars to mind, especially in "Dead Man," and in the subtle twinkles in "Miracleworker." The vocal harmonies are stunning at times...the arrangements in "Ordinaire" rival the great Chris Difford/Glenn Tillbrook harmonies of Squeeze, but the hooting and howling in the middle make Self much more fun. Mahaffey does a dead-on Prince falsetto in "Pattycake," and "Hi, My Name's Cindy" sounds like a 311 bong hit. How 'bout a Doobie Brothers cover, "Minute By Minute", no less? I'm man enough now to admit, that song has long been a guilty pleasure, and I even boarded a school bus with an Italian girlfriend armed with nothing but a half-pint of Amaretto in my boot just to go and see those guys do the Grammy-winner live. Self does an excellent job, working those little V-Tech toy keys hard to push out those big Michael McDonald notes.

The person who may or may not have been the biggest influence on the Gizmodgery project is Beck, and I say that only because this record is similar to Odelay in the bands willingness to take chances mixing rock with funk with the fucking kitchen sink. It's fun to listen to because there's so much going on. You have to go back over tracks to double check to make sure you've heard it all. Odelay was like that...it was strange and beautiful and a great party record. As some of you may remember, "Odelay" ruled the summer of 1995...and a few months later, Self released Subliminal Plastic Motives, and it makes me wonder...was it a good thing that Self waited until now to do Gizmodgery? Would they have caught and rode the Beck-wave to mega-popularity back then, or would they have been accused of being cheap imitators? I don't know. What I do know is that Beck hasn't done a record as good as Odelay since, and if Gizmodgery was a Beck record, the music press would be lining up to shake his clammy hand in a hail of headlines that would read "Beck's Triumphant Return To Form", or "Beck Wakes Up" or "Gee, Beck Really Is A Musical Genius".

Give Self a chance, ladies and gentlemen. You go on down to the Wal-Mart there, and...wait, they won't sell this thing, it has the word muthafucka in it, like, two-hundred times...just find a copy somehow, ok? Play it over and over and until the melodies become a part of who you are and whistle those melodies happily down the corridors of cubicles at your miserable day job, and all of your co-workers that aren't in a coma will poke their pointy little noggins out of their cubes and wonder aloud, "What the fuck are you so happy about?" And you can reply with a genuine smile, "The Joy of Self, silly."

-J Noise

Track Listing:

  1. I Am A Little Explosion
  2. 5 Alive
  3. Chameleon
  4. Dead Man
  5. Trunk Fulla Amps
  6. Pattycake
  7. Ordinaire
  8. Miracleworker
  9. Hi, My Name's Cindy
  10. What A Fool Believes
  11. 9 Lives
  12. Ilovetoloveyourlovemylove
  13. Trunk Fulla Amps (Edit)

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