Lots of people may argue this point, but without a doubt the most important thing to happen in music since we went off air in the spring, in my eyes, was the return of Self. Self, the band run by the creator of the score to Henry Hugglemonster and the Expedia (dot cooooooom) jingle. Self, the band you didn’t remember last time we talked about them, and might remember vaguely from us once mentioning them. Don’t judge: it was important to me!
The nice thing is, this second time around, Self has gotten some fairly interesting support. They’ve performed on Jimmy Kimmell. They’ve had the iTunes “Single of the Week.” Matt has participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” insisting that there are more songs on the way, more extensive touring, potentially even releases somewhere down the pipeline of the long-ignored “Ornament and Crime” or a new album from side-project Wired All Wrong. For a fan of the band, someone who has burned a torch during years when he did not realize they still existed, and for years when they technically didn’t exist, every last promise, from the potential of full releases of the B-side albums to the potential of more vinyl, is a frenzy of excitement. It’s like a friend coming home.
The other bit of excitement is a matter of noticing that, at some point, people DID discover this band. Still in small numbers, mind you, but perhaps through the Beck tours, perhaps hearing a Wired All Wrong single (obscure as that project also was), maybe just from his work in kids TV or seeing Matt listed as a producer on any number of various projects… people know. The New York show back in January was packed. My friend and I had an awesome vantage point, not only on the band, but on the bartender rocking out, singing along to every song. This tiny band from twenty years ago had a fan on staff for the company that owns the Gramercy Tavern. Small world. Or maybe just a bigger world than I’d realized.
In a rough economy, we’ve been seeing a lot of bands get back together, though, often with diminishing results. Self is interesting because their resurgence has, in many ways, made them more relevant than they ever were before, but also because their new EP fits everything they always were. Some of the best tracks mine Mahaffey’s innate sense of The Funk, and all of them show off his penchant for a stellar, if sometimes offbeat, hook. Consider “Runaway,” the lead track, just under 3:30 of pop sweetness over a crunch and stomp riff and a P-Funk sample. It highlights many influences… the pop side is the clearest, but the crunch highlights the post-grunge era that Self was born into, while the use of sample, not to mention its origin, certainly is spawned from Mahaffey’s admiration for hip-hop. It’s a fully indicative track, and also points out aspects that might be highlighted elsewhere.
Despite having these clear influences from yesteryear, however, the song has a timelessness to it. It feels in place in the 90s, but it could work in a 60s setting with minimal tweaking, or in a modern setting as is. Therein lies the beauty of great pop, I suppose. Maybe this is part of why the song is working: having the connections in the biz now can’t hurt, but Mahaffey also knows how to craft a catchy tune, regardless of the era he is working in. He also knows how to play to the audience: the video is chock full of cats, which makes it tailor-made for the interwebs. Still, this is a man who got a song on the Shrek soundtrack, despite minimal radio airplay (and his three biggest hits being tongue in cheek meditations on depression, kidnapping, and saying the word “motherfucker,” respectively). He wrote a three second jingle that is a part of our national memetics. He probably doesn’t need to pander to get people’s attention… it’s just fun to see it all pay off, regardless of the reasons.
Is it naïve to hope this won’t be your first time hearing “Runaway?” Perhaps. I’ve seen a number of people just recently stumble upon the band, and that is definitely exciting: it’s like seeing a family member finally hit on something that feels like a success. Not that Matt hasn’t found his own sort of success in many other realms, but if 20 years later, any band from the mid-90s deserves to have a renaissance, to spring from obscurity into relevance, it makes my heart glad that Self has a shot. Give it a listen, and then dive back into the catalog, to see where it all started.
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