Review Summary: Car Seat Headrest hitting the mainstream is the best thing to happen to twenty-something year-olds since “The Front Bottoms” got signed.
If you’re a moody, constantly depressed, and highly cynical twenty-something year old who often gets frustrated with the cold world around you, Car Seat Headrest is the music for you. Appealing to the same demographic as acts such as The Front Bottoms, Car Seat are the newest group to capture the emotionally off-balance minds of your mid-twenties. Except, Car Seat’s music is more direct and thoughtfully written, versus Front Bottom’s sarcastic and often joke-riddled stream of consciousness brand of lyricism.
Before going any further, it would be wise of me to review Headrest’s history before being signed to Matador. Car Seat Headrest did not begin as a full band but as a solo project by Will Toledo. Toledo would write and record his records in his bedroom and the backseat of his car and then would post them to his Bandcamp. During this period, he released numerous lo-fi indie rock albums that amassed a large cult following. Rightfully so, since when going back and visiting these projects, albums such as “Twin Shadow” and “Nervous Young Man” really stick out, not only as some of the best underground music coming out at the time, but some of the better music coming out in general. This ability to produce music that stands up against big names with not much recording equipment sets him apart and ahead from every other up in coming artist trying to get their name out there. You could say it was inevitable he got signed, as he’d already achieved fame without the platform of a label.
Toledo and company didn’t completely detach from (his)their root’s, as “Teens of Denial” features a lot of the same tension and angst as previous efforts. They’ve also kept song length and album length, shelving albums that extend past an hour, without ever feeling like a drag. One thing missing, as fans likely noticed, is the lack of any 15-minute long epics that seemed to continuously be the height of his solo career discography. But whatever ground he lost there is made up by his drastically improved song-writing ability and his unmatchable lyrical wit.
Cynical, clever, melancholy; these are fitting adjective you could use to describe Headrest’s work. The album opens with “Fill in the Blank,” which quickly establishes the mood of the rest of the record, as Toledo mumbles “I’m so sick of fill in the blank,” addressing literally everything. Toledo’s vocals are often monotonous yet filled with emotion mirroring acts such as Interpol but full of angst. At the climax of songs, he yells lyrics until his voice cracks, like on “Fill in the Blank” when he uses his brand of deadpan humor to spill his guts when the line “I get signs from god to stay the *** down.” If sang by someone else, this line would end up laughable, but Toledo has a gift of getting his listeners to believe he’s serious and more than that, you might even feel the same pain. By the end of this opener, Toledo has a breakthrough, accepting that this might just be the way he is; a depressed and negative human being. At least he makes incredible music to make our ***ty little lives feel slightly more bearable.
This record is littered with his dark humor and analysis’ of life situations that bring about epiphanies. “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” is a whiplash indie rock jam about people’s disillusionment with the world of recreational and psychedelic drugs, assuming that they’re either going to gain spiritual enlightenment or completely fall apart, when, in reality, it’s neither. It’s juxtaposed next to a real-life experience on “Drugs with Friends,” a Car Seat version of a psychedelic rock song, fit with a slide guitar for effect, where Toledo recounts his only psychedelic experience. Instead of becoming enlightened, Toledo finds that he just feels like “another ***-bag civilian” and gets shamed by Jesus and his father. Possibly the best example of his knack of songwriting is displayed in “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” which uses intoxicated drivers and the documentary “Blackfish” to express the weight of responsibilities in life and the empty feeling of falling victim to the vicious cycle of irresponsibility. After a few spins of this record, it’s hard to imagine anyone who won’t be singing along when Toledo starts bellowing, “It doesn’t have to be like this killer whales! Killer whales!”
The remaining portions of the album sees the band tackling a handful of different genres such as funk (Vincent), punk (Connect the Dots), emo (Cosmic Hero) and power pop (Unforgiving Girl). Will repeatedly revisits his seamlessly endless crutches, such as his shame about watching porno (Not What I Needed), his battles with social anxiety (Vincent) and death (Cosmic Hero). Depending on where you’re currently at in life, you may not connect to the music as much as I do, but even if you don’t, it’s hard to deny its appeal. If Will reads this, somehow, let’s get a drink, man. I’m sure a lot of fans want the honor, since you’ve helped a lot of us get through some rough days.
Review Link: (Will post later tonight)