Tuesday, April 07, 2009

20 Albums That Changed My Life, Part 3

This is a continuation of my series on 20 life-changing albums. If you missed the first two, here they are:

Now, on to the good stuff:

5) Subliminal Plastic Motives - Self
I discovered this record literally by accident. There was one hit that was being played on the then-fledgling alternative rock stations, the song "So Low." At the time, I liked the song because it sounded a bit like Nine Inch Nails. I came to realize later that Self (which, like Nine Inch Nails, was actually one person, Matt Mahaffey) was actually poking fun at the morose and depressing lyrics that were dominating alt rock at the time.
When I finally found the record, it was so much more than I had bargained for. Here was a true original, an artist who was able to effortlessly and effectively blend elements from a wide variety of musical genres into his own unique, quirky style. There are elements of grunge, hip-hop, jazz, and more, with a healthy dose of weird noises and samples. Bridges tend to consist either of blasts of noise and samples over music or a foray into an entirely different musical style, and there is not a guitar solo to be found. Above it all, Mahaffey's voice weaves catchy pop melodies. It seems like it wouldn't work, but it does. Here are some of the highlights:
  • "Sophomore Jinx" - a humorous song about the curse of the sophomore album, blending hip-hop, grunge and powerpop, if you can believe that!
  • "So Low" - What begins with industrial mayhem suddenly breaks into a Beatle-esque bridge, and pulls it off nicely.
  • "Marathon Shirt" - What starts out sounding almost like a prog rock song with some Sting influences breaks suddenly into a cocktail lounge jazz bridge.
  • "Big Important Nothing" - A song about the marriage of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. The verses are sung over a Thelonious Monk-inspired piano loop with a loping shuffle beat, and the chorus is plucked right out of the vocal jazz stylebook. The song also has the trademark Mahaffey blast of noise in the instrumental bridge.
"Subliminal" sounds a bit dated now, mostly due to the guitar sounds as well as a few of the lyrical themes. Still, it's one of those rare records that I can listen to without skipping over songs. The next full-length Self album, "Breakfast With Girls," is arguably even better, taking the genre-bending even further with higher production values. The 3rd and final Self full-length was "Gizmodgery," made entirely with toy instruments.
It's obvious to me and most of his fans that Mahaffey is a musical genius, and it almost seems like his lack of commercial success is intentional. He enjoys subverting and/or overturning pop conventions, both lyrically and musically. He is still working actively as a producer, did a recent collaboration with Jeff Turzo of God Lives Underwater called "Wired All Wrong," and does a bit of soundtrack work as well. I don't think we have seen the last of him.
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