I was first introduced to Self way back in 1995 when I picked up a copy of the newly-released first album Subliminal Plastic Motives and became forever obsessed. I ended up lending it out to at least 3 other people, who then each bought their own copies and subsequently leant them out to their friends. The music was pretty quirky for the alt-rock-slash-grunge era of the time, so it very quickly drew comparissons to the music of Beck... although I tend to think Mahaffey is far more talented and brilliant, with a broader scope of taste and style.
I listened to that album essentially non-stop for a good year or so, before the second album The Half-Baked Serenade was released. Unfortunately, it was only released through mail-order, so I ended up downloading it off the newly-popular internet. Keep in mind that Windows 95 was brand new and not highly used, so this was back in the days of dial-up... No Napster and no high-speed connections, so it took me about a week to obtain that damn album. (I have since then obtained a legal copy, so shut up.)
Serenade was far more electronic-based than the first album, and due to the small release it's not very well-known... but there were some brilliant songs on there that have become known as "classic Self" songs.
Taking a bunch of left-over songs from the first two albums, Self released what may actually have been the first official "internet-only album" in 1997 called Feels Like Breakin' Shit. He encouraged fans to make their own artwork for the album, and every track was free to download. Some of the songs were short joke songs that he never intended for release, while others fall into my opinion of the band's best songs ever. It also contained the first real hint at Mahaffey's obsession with Prince.
"Let's Pretend We're Married"
While the first three albums were made almost entirely by Matt Mahaffey alone with occasional input from his brother Mike, the fourth album Breakfast With Girls found the occasional "guest" musicians from prior albums appearing in a much more "band-like" capacity. Part of this was due to them having toured with Self as a backing band, but I have a feeling the move to a bigger record label played an even greater part.
"Kill The Barflies"
That damn album got delayed so many times that when it was finally released, nobody really knew it was out... A lot of fans were upset over something-er-rather, and I guess it didn't really get the best reviews. Maybe people were just bitter for having to wait a few years, I don't know... but now it's well-regarded as being the high point in their career. Personally, it's always been my favourite Self album, and listening to it just makes me happy.
Shortly after BWG, Matt released an album he had been working on for some time called Gizmodgery. This actually might be their best-known album and is just known as "the toy album" to some people.
Gizmodgery was made entirely using toys and toy instruments purchased at, well... toy stores. While it being an obvious gimmick that catches peoples attentions, the music itself stands on its own for being well-made and well-written. In fact, there are plenty of times you would hardly guess there was anything different about this album at all. Another highlight to the Self catalog, this was the last fully official album to date.
That same year, Self released a few free EP's and another free internet album Selfafornia before starting work on the next big album. During those next few years, Matt Mahaffey would also work on some music for movies such as Evolution, Shrek and Shrek 2, which makes a bit of sense considering their label at the time was DreamWorks... When I tell people about Self, usually the first thing I point out is that they've likely heard the song running over the end credits to the first Shrek film.
The new album Ornament & Crime was slated to be released in 2003... then 2004... and then never. Apparently when Universal acquired DreamWorks Records, they shelved the album indefinitely, and Matt was officially unable to release or even really talk about the album. Looking like it will never officially by released, it's essentially the "lost" Self record. Luckily, the album was leaked at some point by someone, and I'm not allowed to say if I have a copy or not, so don't ask unless it's in a private email.
"No One Knows You"
In the months leading up the eventual non-release of O&C, Self released a song a week to their website... songs that were not going to be on the album. This, combined with the restriction of the unreleased album, ended up forming yet another free internet album called Porno, Mint & Grime.
"Busy Sending Me"
Many fans (myself included) consider most/all of the 21 songs on this free album to be of a much higher quality than the songs on Ornament & Crime. This album is truly what makes Self so wonderful. Despite working on a proper album, he still finds a way to release some of his best music (and double the amount of it) to his fans for free.
In 2005, Self fans were saddened to hear about the passing of Matt's brother Mike Mahaffey, who was not only the only other original "member" of Self but also acted as Matt's personal musical inspiration growing up. Many people feared this was the end of Self for good, but recently Matt began work on a new studio and eventually started to release new music online.
"Could You Love Me Now?"
As of December of last year, work on a new album, tentatively titled Super Fake Nice, was underway and is very highly anticipated by us rabid Self fans. Let's hope this one can actually be released... and I'm especially hoping the quantity of songs will amount to yet another internet supplemental album.
If anyone is interested in obtaining any of the already-free music from me, feel free to contact me through email or my Google+ page