Review Summary: "Thanks for fucking with my head, come again soon"
There is a moment throughout the fast paced and bouncy “You’re in Love with Me” when Car Seat Headrest’s front man, and now well established indie rock hero, Will Toledo, sings about dreaming of President Obama visiting him on his birthday party and being proud of him for being so in love with this girl. At this point, I can’t help but awkwardly smile and feel glad for Will too, and the fact that he’s kept that quirky and smart sense of humor that made his music so special in the first place. Having that is an essential aspect for Car Seat Headrest music, not gonna lie, 2016 was quite the emotional ***storm for me, so, ¿why would I look for comfort in a band that reminds me of my struggles? The aforementioned track marks only the first half of the album, and if you made it past this point, then you’ve probably encountered yourself with a collection of fears, anxieties, existential doubts, and just very depressing thoughts, all of which, are recurring themes in the band’s extensive discography, presented in very well crafted songs.
With How To Leave Town, we see the indie lo-fi project steer away from its roots a bit further into a more accessible territory, and this is probably also the last time we’ll see Car Seat Headrest dwelling on this type of sound for a while, as this year’s fantastic Teens of Denial saw them moving into a more rock oriented territory. That’s not to say this record is an easy listen, or that it doesn’t have those elements from previous recordings that many fell in love with, such as the reverb effect on Will’s voice, or some pretty standard, but effective, chord progressions scattered here and there; but the production on this thing is just great, as well as the best from all their self-recorded era.
How To Leave Town is another lengthy record filled with self-deprecating stories, and inner monologues that will most likely leave you feeling empty for a long time, as Toledo doesn’t keep anything to himself, take for instance “The Ending of Dramamine” one of the album’s obvious highlights and terrific opener, where Will just cuts himself open for everyone to see, “hate yourself, do you hate yourself, I don't hate myself, I tolerate myself, I wish I was someone else, but it seems too stupid to mention, I know I'll be ripped in heaven,” he reflects on the atmospheric and somber track about his place in life, even as far as talking about feelings too vague and complicated to give them an actual name, “I was young, I was thin I had money and I loved you, but then came the shabba de bop bop be shibby day, oh yeah Shabba de bop bop be shibby day, oh yeah”. The song does a perfect job of setting the mood for what it is to come, lyrically, and sonically, and yes, the title is a Modest Mouse reference.
Another aspect that really makes this record stand out is Will’s newfound ability to look at himself from many different ways, as he is constantly considering other people’s perspectives and opinions, as well as the way they perceive him, such as in the next couple tracks, “So all your friends are leaving town, you're hiding out in your parents' house, they wonder why you never go to church, hard to explain why it doesn't work, cause you're not living in sin well, but you're not living in health well, and you're a danger to yourself well, and to pedestrians”, he sings over some tasty riffs, that just keep on pounding the ears, on “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Love Enough)”, another fine example of Toledo being trapped with himself, as he learns he can't just be mad at the system, or blame other people for all his misfortunes.
While on “Kimochi Warui (When? When? When? When? When? When? When? )”, he realizes that all of his heroes and idols are just like him, or everyone else, that is, pretty ***ed up individuals, “I used to think there was an answer in the music of my youth, but I just read Brian Wilson’s biography and now I know the truth”, so now he’s left with no one else to look upon for hope, not even a heavenly God, as by this point he has completely dismissed him, “I have no faith in life to leave me satisfied, I’ll have these doubts and worries until the day I die, and I will not go to heaven, and I will not go to hell, I have no faith in death to be anything at all”, another disturbing track by Toledo that leaves the listener feeling uneasy, however, everything happens over a catchy beat, and some very dreamy vocals, this writer can’t help but being overwhelmed by all type of emotions, and, after all, ¿how could I? it’s impossible not to feel hit by the former’s song last refrain:
“The people that I’ve talked to
and the books that I’ve read
and the TV shows and movies that I’ve seen
are all I have to turn to
to learn how to live
but when? When? When? When?
When? When? When will I ever learn?”
How to Leave Town is, without a doubt, a bittersweet listen, so even when the subjects here might bum you out like hell, the album is filled with self-awareness, catchy hooks, and just plain outstanding musical moments, so if you don’t find yourself singing along to the huge choruses in “America (Never Been)”, then you might be taking this record way too seriously, and that’s not to say that Will Toledo isn’t being dead honest here, just listen to “I Want You to Know That I’m Awake/I Hope That You’re Asleep” and find out for yourself. But the thing is, it seems that Toledo is aware that nothing in life really matters, or at least he hasn’t found something that does yet, so why not just accept things the way they are with a sense of humor, take for instance another favorite of mine, “Is This Dust Really From the Titanic?”, another monologue that will please old fans of the band for its neurotic and organic nature, where Will reflects about the pros and cons of having a lot of artist friends, as well as seing a big part of himself reflected on these people, which, for the most part, just brings him a more negative outlook on life:
“The ***ty thing about having artist friends is getting into the front seat of their car and having to rest your feet on fast food burger wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles. It's depressing to realize that these people that you've thought had a much better hold on life than you don't really have their *** together. At least, not in the normal sense. And if I'm being honest, it does kind of matter. Apparently, it's impossible to be an artist and not have puked-in car cup holders. I'm not excluding myself from this”.
And, for the most part, that’s what this record is, we get to see a young man falling deeper and deeper into this abyss that we call adult life, while taking us along with him, asking a bunch of questions, but finding no real answers. However, Toledo does hint that the answers to all this doubts lie within ourselves, even if he waits until the final moments on the record to say this. “Hey, Space Cadet! (Beast Monster Thing in
Space)” is a worthy closer for such an emotional ride, the spacey and slow-burner song, sees Will overthinking things for just one last time and tackling pretty much all the subjects he’s talked about before, “Hey, space cadet, you can’t hang out with your friends, even when you are with them, hey, space cadet, you’re gonna need a lot of love, but not the kind you’re thinking of”.
And as the album begins to fade away, you also realize that How To Leave Town is not an album for everyone, and as much as I hate to say it, it’s a record for those of us who’ve felt as empty, hurt, and troubled, as Will has, at some point on our lives, and are willing to admit it. So, if you’ve loved this year’s catchy, and hard hitting, Teens of Denial as much as I did, or the outstanding bedroom pop gem, Twin Fantasy, there is definitely something here waiting for you, as this is the band’s widest spectrum of sounds, it might not strike you the way you’d expect it at first listen, but if you give this the right time, you won’t be indifferent to it. Will knows himself and his fans too well to leave us hopeless, so even when he’s lost control of his life, he is willing to live it.
“Hey, space cadet
It's alright to want to dream
It doesn't mean reality is mean.”