Self: Subliminal Plastic Motives

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007} CSLook up “three clowns” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Self’s 1995 debut album, Subliminal Plastic Motives. This is completely true.

The disc starts off very promising, with probably its second best song, “Borateen,” a fairly heavy rocker that eschews nonsense and lays out its chorus and verses with a tasty guitar tone. From there, “Sophomore Jinx,” about exactly what you think it would be about, goes in a different direction with some funky synth sounds and a flange guitar effect and some cool start/stop quirks that muck with the time signature. Not quite as much of a grabber as the lead track, but still pretty good.

And then after that things immediately plummet into a mess of doggerel, whiny melodic hooks, and lead member Matt Mahaffey generally just trying to show you how well-versed he is in so many styles. “Stewardess” and “So Low” are probably the two worst songs here, and they occupy the third and fourth slots. After that it’s pretty hit or miss for the rest of the disc. At one moment you’re grooving to the Soul Coughings-esque stylings of “Big Important Nothing” or banging your head to “Missed The Friction,” but the next you’re shaking your head at the band’s over-literalness (“Marathon Shirt” is about a t-shirt from a marathon and its owner) and insistence on breaking up a good song halfway in order to introduce a completely unrelated, and often worse, idea. “Missed The Friction” is a totally missed opportunity for a mix candidate.

Most of these songs could have been bumped up or down a notch if they’d happen to emphasize their best or worst parts, respectively. It’s a frustrating listen because it’s wonderful at points but never seems to be able to live up to its talent. It’s like the prototypical five-tools player who has flashes of brilliance on a given play, but can never seem to put together a solid game.

– “Borateen,” “Missed The Friction,” “Superstar”
– “Sophomore Jinx,” “Marathon Shirt,” “Cannon,” “Mother Nature’s Fault,” “Big Important Nothing,” “Lost My Senses”
– “Stewardess,” “So Low,” “Lucid Anne”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Borateen – “I’m stuck between a rock and a vinyl interior”
  2. Sophomore Jinx – I like the stop/start parts, but this isn’t enjoyable the whole way through.
  3. Stewardess – Here I like the pre-chorus or bridge or whatever you want to call it, but hate the verses and the chorus. “Northeastern Southwest Mississippi.”
  4. So Low – like some crap like Cracker or Soup Dragons. Also some Soul Coughing with those bending bass notes.
  5. Marathon Shirt – mocks a guy who keeps wearing a shirt from a marathon. which seems prescient, because i feel like lame t-shirts are way more prevalent now than they were in 1995.
  6. Lucid Anne –
  7. Cannon –
  8. Missed The Friction – Here’s one that’s completely awesome until the chorus, where they just throw away much of the goodness they’ve built up until that point.
  9. Superstar – very cool synth sounds. Gets too slow, boring, and directionless in the middle, which is kind of par for the course for these guys. So full heart may be generous, but that start is awfully sweet.
  10. Mother Nature’s Fault – I love the screechy guitar parts. But, again, the chorus is just flat. They seem to drop the keys or guits into a flat tuning about halfway through, adding another cool avant-garde touch. So some merits, but god, it’s just not enjoyable enough to get a full heart.
  11. Big Important Nothing – Oh, here’s the Soul Coughing-est track. With piano keys and Casio video game sounds mixed in. The breakdown about halfway through is something cool. They always change the song drastically halfway through.
  12. Lost My Senses – Like a minute of silence at the end. Starts off with some synth noodling before moving into a heavy riff and then slowing into a talkie-groove. Not a bad song by any means.

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