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Self: Breakfast With Girls

A chaotic musical masterpiece

By Daniel J. Katz

Matt Mahaffey is clearly trying to trick us all. His band, Self, has five members, and yet their third album, Breakfast With Girls (Dreamworks/Spongebath), was written and recorded almost entirely by Mahaffey, with his bandmates recording various instrumental parts when needed. The one secret that Mahaffey can’t hide, however, is that Breakfast For Girls is absolutely brilliant, and arguably the best album so far this year.

The band sounds extremely British, but actually hails from Nashville. After two grungy alt-rock albums containing hits which brought the band’s greatest exposure (“So Low” and “Cannon”), their third release sounds more like an exotic fusion of Beck, Soul Coughing, and David Bowie. And every time you think you finally have the album figured out, Mahaffey throws a curve ball that sends it spinning in a whole new direction.

Mahaffey admits to being “a fan of poppy melodies and not-so-poppy sound,” and that passion is evident on Breakfast With Girls. There are tunes here that are incredibly infectious, including “Suzy Q Sailaway” and “Paint By Numbers” (which first appeared on the Dead Man On Campus soundtrack and landed the band a Nashville Music Award nomination). These catchy songs are framed by odd spacy bleeps, antique samples, and other techniques that seem to have been borrowed from Beck Hansen’s attic. These sounds don’t drown the music, though. Rather, they complement it and give the melodies a whole new depth and originality.

Stylistic leaps fill the album. “Sucker” is surrounded by old-time horns and backing vocals that sound like they’d be more fitting on a record than on a CD (and the muffled scratching sound of a phonograph is present to drive the point home). The power-chord driven chorus to “What Are You Thinking?” is countered by sudden aggressive orchestral flourishes. And “Callgirls” begins with peppy laser sounds that establish a techno atmosphere for about ten seconds. That atmosphere is then completely abandoned for a funky acoustic guitar beat, which is just as abruptly joined by a mellotron pulled straight out of a horror movie.

In addition to the music, Self’s lyrics are witty and thoughtful. “Kill The Barflies,” a tale of a woman being relentlessly hit on in a bar with appropriately frantic and menacing accompaniment, pleads: “If this is nightlife then bring back the sun.” The narrator in “Suzy Q Sailaway” watches the sky falling and then hurries to “gather the pieces because they’ll be worth a ton.” Finally, the leading single, “Meg Ryan,” takes a relaxing tone, painting pictures of “Hawaiian instruments” and “pineapples and sugar,” before unexpectedly crying out, “I want to die, kicking, screaming, put to death.” And then somehow Mr. T becomes involved. Honest.

I really can’t fully capture the uniqueness of this album in this review; it’s something you need to experience for yourself. Every song on Breakfast With Girls has great melody, clever lyrics, and music that’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. On Self’s third album, Matt Mahaffey combines elements which should create meaningless chaos, but which instead form a musical masterpiece. Take it from me: if you enjoy innovative music, Breakfast With Girls is a must-own.