Hindsight being what it is, it’s not very hard to hear what major label executives were hearing when they signed Murfreesboro, Tennessee’s Self. Twas the era of “alternative rock,” after all, and in 1995 that meant poppy guitar rock with clever, intelligent, and sometimes irreverent lyrics. In listening to debut album Subliminal Plastic Motives‘ opening track “Borateen,” that answer becomes obvious: Weezer. The crunchy guitars, the killer harmonies–it’s all there, and they do heavily remind of Mr. Rivers Cuomo, though one hears a little bit of Veruca Salt in the mix as well.
While operating as a band, Self’s core members were brothers Matt and Mike Mahaffey, and the duo possessed a spark of originality that separated them from the opportunists and imitators. The two had an appreciation of pop melodies, as well as an understanding of the contemporary rock scene. Highlights include the wonderfully double-tracked harmonies of “Stewardess,” the hip-hop ballad “Lucid Anne,” the jazzy Ben Folds-style piano-pop of “Big Important Nothing” the loud, ringing guitars of “Missed the Friction,” and Brainiac-style insanity of “Mother Nature’s Fault.” The most impressive song, however, would be “Sophomore Jinx,” a song that tellingly and accurately describes the dangers and hassles of being a rock band signed to a major label. For such a young group to have such trenchant insight is impressive enough; one wonders what “the suits” must have thought of such a scathing criticism.
Self continued on quietly, touring and releasing albums both on major labels and on their own label. Most notably, they were perhaps the first major label rock band to release a digital-only album, doing so with their third album, Feels Like Breaking Shit, in 1997. Mahaffey recently signed to Fat Possum, and this vinyl release preludes a new Self album, as well as the core original band’s first shows in well over a decade. If their new material is half as good as Subliminal Plastic Motives, then it’s going to be a welcome comeback.