The Pop in Self

The Anglophile in me has been running rampant.  I already have to write alongside the more eclectic tastes of Dave and Jason, who can break it down on the dance floor, China Room-style, as easily as they can hit Lollapalooza and drop science about the historicity of indie-rock in the new millennium.  So, I’m feeling I need to expand a little here, and move beyond my obvious devotion to The Jam, for which my musical compass will forever revolve around.  They are the gold standard, a group with more incredible songs than I can keep track of even though their recording days have long since passed, and the one group I wish I had been able to see in their heyday.  As much as I respect, admire, and love the Clash (and Mick Jones’s later work with all derivations of Big Audio Dynamite), I love the Jam that much more.  So much so, that with very few exceptions (Amsterdam, The Clash, Chisel), most of my music is not at all similar sounding, because The Jam capture all of my other interests and make it something all their own, with the obvious exception of alt.country (not much Brit.alt.country).

Toward the end of Jason’s last year in college (my 3rd year), I rather innocently handed him a CD by Self.  Based on Self’s progression from guitar-pop to doing-Beck-before-Beck, I thought Jason would dig.  Self is how Jason first met Dave, so this little site should really be named “Better than Aliens.”  I never knew how important my CD handover would be.  In terms of our musical interests, it was revolutionary.  Soon enough, I would be listening to Pearl Jam’s “Off He Goes” repeatedly for weeks, and Jason would become indie Chicago guru, catching secret shows of The Smoking Popes and my constant source for the inevitability of asking, “Who is ___________, how about ____________?”.

So, what now to recommend.  The whole point of this post, is that despite my relatively narrow musical stylings (after all, music is insanely diverse), my interests are deceptively diverse—as long as it has some some pop craftsmanship.  Britpop, Jangle Pop, Paisley Underground, Indie-pop, punk, power pop, mod, Celtic, alt.country, reggae, Outkast, college rock—you get the point.  I’m an addict for hooks.  When I first met Matt Mahaffey, Self himself, I asked him if he had ever listened to the work of Scott Miller (check link for mind-boggling Top 20 for each year between 1965-99), lead singer of Game Theory (1980s) and The Loud Family (1990s-2000s).  He humored me and acted like he was all about Scott Miller.  Maybe he was, maybe he was being nice.  Still, I saw the work of Mahaffey as quite similar to Miller, who despite his formidable base of pop, likes to extend his work into the slightly experimental, especially in his mid-period Loud Family work.  More Big Star though than Beatles, Miller’s music is decidedly American, as one of the most significant artists of the Paisley Underground scene of the early 1980s—the Northern California ying to the Southeast yang of jangle-pop.

I’m clueless how to capture a 20+ recording career with a single song, so I’m posting two.  One Game Theory era, one from his still current Loud Family era.  The most unique aspect of Miller, other than his voice, which he loves to criticize and call a “miserable whine,” are the unique song structures.  Something is always off, it’s pop with a stop-and-start, off-kilter, uneasy, yet always remarkable underlying pop savvyness.  Miller is also an intellect, whose lyrics straddle a fine line of high-minded obscurity and observational musings of the depth buried in the everyday.


Game Theory: “Crash into June”

The Loud Family: “Spot the Setup”

Future musings: Band of Horses (Fox Theatre, Boulder), Johan, Alejandro Escovedo, The Decemberists, Sloan @ Pop Montreal, Robyn Hitchcock, The Chills, The Jam (duh), and Amsterdam revisited.

As Jason wrote in his comment, I present Scott Miller (Empty Bottle, Chicago, Jason: “He’s a mad scientist.”  Here he’s pictured with producer Mitch Easter and Shelley LaFreniere in 1985.

1 - Scott, Mitch Easter and Shelley LaFreniere in Mitch's Drive-In Studio, Winston-Salem, NC, recording BSC during Real Nighttime tour, 1985


2 Responses to “The Pop in Self”

  1. 1 Dave
    September 26, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    Fantastic work, Joe! I really never even think about Jason and I meeting because of Self, but you’re right, ultimately that’s how we all know one another. Better Than Aliens? Hilarious.

    I dig both tracks. About half of Spot the Setup first reminded me of Popular from Nada Surf. I dunno why. And that isn’t a bad thing.

  2. September 29, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Dang. Listening to Spot the Setup has motivated me to blow the dust off of ‘Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things.’ I fondly remember purchasing that album with you in Nashville at Great Escape. It’s tough to compete with the “mad scientist!”

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