When the BBP! powers-that-be proposed a rotating Album of the Week column. I cautiously agreed and breathed a small sigh of relief when I saw that my name came up fairly deep in the batting order.
You see, despite my 1995 award winning column on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I do not fancy myself a music writer. I absolutely love music and consider it an essential part of my life, but even though I was blessed with perfect pitch I am also not a musician. Much like most actors want to be musicians and vice versa, I have longed to be a music writer and harbor an envy bubbling just below the surface for those talented enough to do it…Jeromme.
When I was growing up it was nothing but 1980’s Top 40 pop music from Detroit’s Z95.5 station which pretty much mirrored what was on MTV at the time along with American Bandstand. Without the benefit of older siblings I was left very much on my own for finding music that I thought was new and cool. The earliest memory I have of something really clicking for me was when I saw the video for R.E.M.’s song “Stand” in 1988 but it would still be a couple more years before a cousin gave me his old cassette copies of Document and Green so I was content with my “Weird” Al tapes until then.
By the time I got to junior high, Grunge ruled the land and Nirvana and Pearl Jam were so omnipresent I never bothered to pick up either of their albums. They were constantly on a loop on MTV and the dearly departed Windsor/Detroit radio station 89X, so why should I bother wasting my allowance? To put it in perspective, I was the poser kid who had a Pearl Jam t-shirt before I even had a CD of theirs (Vitalogy, which I was gifted and ended up not liking very much anyways). I was content to quietly and privately listen to 1992’s best album, Automatic For The People.
My relationship with music has been one oddly similar to Starfleet’s mission statement, “…to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations…” In brief, I’m always looking for what’s next. What record is out there that is really going to connect with me and speak to me in ways that Top 40 radio could never dare dream of? Of course this has lead me to gamble and lose on countless bands through the 90’s and early 00’s that had MAYBE one good song in them.
So now that I’ve set the stage, I’m pleased to present to you Self’s 1999 sonic masterpiece Breakfast With Girls.
My first encounter with Self was on the highly unlikely soundtrack for the black comedy Dead Man On Campus. The song “Paint by Numbers” played in the background of a party scene and I liked it enough to pick up the soundtrack but without the benefit of having the entirety, of the internet in my pocket that was where the story briefly ended.
A few years later Breakfast With Girls was working its way through my circle of friends and was something I became fixated on with the disc not leaving my car’s CD player for months. I reached out to my friend Steve who, as I recalled, had been ground zero for the album’s spread among our group. He had picked up Self’s first record due to the band’s association with another band and managed to find a copy for a whopping $0.79 in the discount bin of a local record shop. When it came time for me to buy my own copy, the record was long gone from stores so I had to turn to the future Great Satan of Amazon to procure one.
I’ve been trying to think about what it was that drew me to the record so I can write at least somewhat intelligently about it. Breakfast With Girls was fun and peculiar pop music that was scratching some kind of itch I didn’t even know I had yet. Looking back, I’ve always been drawn to weird synth stuff and the sounds coming from my stereo were layered and expansive and made me want to put on the best pair of headphones I could find to see what I could uncover deep in the mix. On the flip side of that, it was also a record that begged to be played loud so that it could fill up whatever room you decided to bless with it.
As a descriptor, I’m hesitant to use the word “funky” to describe the bass on this record. What do I know of funk? Only what I’ve read in books, I’m sure. The record also has a couple instances of Queen-esque guitar riffs and an unexpected but not unwelcome Count Bass D and L.L. Cool J samples. Matt Mahaffey, the mind behind Self, also cleverly employs some toy instruments here and there, something that would later be expanded into a full record using nothing but toy instruments for the following record Gizmodgery.
I previously mentioned the song “Paint by Numbers” as the hook that drew me into the record, but it wasn’t until I was listening to the record on repeat that I was able to figure out that the song was about the act of a writer trying to craft the perfect pop song. There was an element of sarcasm throughout the record with a few songs taking swings at appeasing industry masters or the tastes of the listening public, but also trying to remain true to one’s self as an artist.
To date, Breakfast With Girls holds the record (pun fully intended) for the most I’ve ever spent on vinyl. I won’t disclose the figure here, but I can safely say I’ll never spend that much on a record again. I had been searching for the LP for years and years and had gone though two copies of the CD before it finally popped up on eBay and I clicked “Buy It Now.” I’d love to see a re-release so I can have a backup but for now the record only gets trotted out for special occasions.
Putting things in perspective, the last time the vinyl sold on Discogs was 2017. Recently, another Discogs user messaged me to ask if I’d be interested in selling my copy, a friend of mine who also owns the vinyl got the very same message. I could only wish the user the best of luck in their quest.
So, what ended up happening with Self? Matt Mahaffey is still out there doing it to it, mostly scoring music for animation and you may have even heard him doing the them for Nick’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, the movie of which hits Netflix this week. Mahaffey still manages to put out music as Self here and there and it always feels like an event and it’s consistently great (obviously, I’m biased).
I’m glad I got the chance to once again give Breakfast With Girls the “you have to listen to this!” treatment to a larger audience. Give it a listen, stream it, buy a CD, just don’t ask me to sell my copy of it.
E.A. Henson writes for Biff Bam Pop! about toys and video games.