Review Summary: when I come back you'll still be here
Let it be clear that Car Seat Headrest is now a band, and even if Will Toledo is still the mastermind behind more than a dozen records, he no longer wants to function in solitude, yet this seems to often be dismissed, or rather, omitted by lazy and gossipy journalists, in favor of focusing on Toledo’s personal, and often mislead, intimate and sexual life. This aspect of the singer’s persona was hard to separate back when the original Twin Fantasy was released in 2011 while he was still in college, as the record did in fact revolve around a failed romantic relationship, however, this time around though, Toledo has a different outlook on life, his former self, and the body of work that person created.
With this fresth scope of things, Will lets his talented bandmates step up to shine across the different movements that compose, what’s arguably, his most personal record yet, take for instance the end of Bodys where Andrew Kats, the virtuoso goofball behind the kit, which by the way sounds astounding thanks to Adam Stilson’s mix, plays to his character, 1traitdanger, droping some comical lines, giving the record a welcome sense of relief the original lacked due to the aforementioned intimate nature; or the gorgeous sing along plead right at the center of Famous Prophets, where guitarist Ethan Ives harmonizes the desperate chant of “we gotta back”, and while bass player, Seth Dalby, does for the most part stick to his playing role he serves as the strongest backbone for many of the more complex and dynamic songs. Eventually Toledo approached the endeavor in the same vein that David Lynch did last year with Twin Peaks: The Return, bold, gritty, authentic, while still being and feeling familiar, but even fans never thought he would nail all these things, let alone take it way beyond that.
A few months back Car Seat Headrest’s enthusiasts were shocked to hear we were getting a new rendition (at the time people expected just a remaster) of the frantic teenage odyssey that was Beach-Life-in-Death, the glorious centerpiece of Toledo’s most beloved piece of work. The anxiety-fueled rollercoaster of a song had been praised throughout the years, since it surfaced on bandcamp, in the underground scene, with fans quoting a great amount of the innumerable, clever, poignant, but overall, deeply personal one liners. However, the whole album was regarded with the same excitement and devotion, establishing itself as a cult classic, beyond the lo-fi realm fighting to make it into the greater canons of rock music. While Toledo, not only was crowned as one of the most ingenious and skilled songwriters for years to come, but as a sincere musician who showed true fondness and fidelity to his craft.
While I waited for my time zone to hit the midnight mark, I gave (old) Twin Fantasy another affective spin, it went through my system as exceptional as ever. I started to doubt what Will’s motives could be, going into the task of re-recording something that, under the eyes of many, was already perfect, other fans wasted no time on pointing out what they called a quick cash-grab from a musician who had already peaked years ago, while he recorded songs between classes. I personally thought that he wanted to expose an excellent, but limited work, and expose it to a larger audience. Now backed with a tight full line-up, and with the right tools to take his fantasy to heights he never could have done seven years ago, while he was maniacally screaming right into his laptop’s mic. And let’s get another thing clear, Toledo was proud of what he had made with what little he had, and if he nailed the dreamy atmosphere and aesthetics under such a limited spectrum, he knew what he was capable of with his, now four-piece, band, and under the seal of Matador Records.
It became obvious after my first listen to the new version of Beach Life, this was not a simple re-make, nor was it the label’s idea, but rather a re-invention of sounds and a re-exploration of Toledo’s own personal story, latter, he would address his real intentions in one of the very few press releases he agreed to do since the record’s conception: “I no longer see my story as a tragedy”. This new outlook on his persona and his work of quasi-fiction is reflected onto the new sonic landscape, as Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) feels more lighthearted but without sacrificing the anguish and desperation felt before, in fact, the most cathartic moments towards the last part of the album are much more hard hitting and fleshed out this time around, more on that latter. As a result, the band constructs the music with a fresh sense of freedom and a more carefree attitude, acoustic numbers such as Stop Smoking (We Love You) and Sober to Death get a more electric and stripped-down feel, no longer displaying that serenade feeling, but they sound as you would expect on a live setting; the latter still drags its final lines for everyone to join in unison.
Back on Beach Life, Toledo, now a confident singer, no longer hiding his vulnerable spots, takes a step-up front and delivers with clarity all of the songs motifs: “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends, I never came out to my friends”, “I am almost completely soulless, I am incapable of being human, I am incapable of being inhuman”. And those are just a few of the lines that introduce us to Twin Fantasy’s recurrent themes, and how they gravitate around its core, a very particular and unstable romantic relationship, and the fictional world that was eventually built around it.
This take on the creation of characters based on real life persons played a vital role on the original Nervous Young Inhumans, which ended with an infamous monologue, in which where, Toledo goes meta and explains his reasoning behind the song, as well as it’s constructions and deatachments. However, the new version gets rid of its former urgency, and trades it for a more glammy and slicker synth driven sound, coped with a spoken part that leans more on inner dialogue as Will reflects on his last year experiences, while introducing a new concept into the saga: The Pain Star, a concept that originated years ago among Will and his friends.
"A Pain Star only comes once every several thousand years, and when you touch it, you feel unfathomable pain all throughout your body, but only for a split second"
Keep in mind that on Twin Fantasy, breaking the fourth wall isn’t exclusive to it’s more introspective moments, Bodys is as infectious and inviting as its ever been, with Will addressing form: “Is it the chorus yet? No. It’s just the building of the verse, so when the chorus does come, it will be more rewarding”. Reminding the listener that our narrator has always been a couple steps ahead, but if you don’t want to dwell deeper on semiotics, this is the perfect song to not worry about meaning, as the band bounces back and forth throughout several shifting dynamics without ever losing any cohesion, but instead expanding the already infectious moments, it comes across a little ironic for a track that admits being “terrified that our bodies could fall apart at any second”
The dramatic transition in ambience and sound between tracks is still prevalent here on Face to Face, of course I’m speaking about transitioning from Cute Thing to High to Death, and the eventual climax on the last couple tracks, both of the aforementioned songs are very much improved when it comes to sound quality, even if it comes at the price of losing some of its naïve charm. The former, remains an upbeat number that places it’s strength on punching hooks and some clever wordplay, it also features a glitchy breakdown that will please both the old and new crowd. High to Death, on the other hand, has morphed into a different kind of creature, or at least a much more defined one, as most of the reverb and dizzy atmosphere are gone; vocals, this time around, are audible and less muddy. But it is it’s beautiful crescendos, slow burning chord progressions, as well as some new added glitches and robotic spoken passages, that still make it the album’s most introspective and ethereal moment: “It’s the middle of the night, and I’ll never be alright again”.
As I listen, I find myself eagerly awaiting for the story arc to reach it’s climax and resolution, at this point, I no longer question Car Seat’s intentions, but want them to keep going further, up until now the band has pieced together a collection of songs that are determined, perplexing, and immensely personal in sound and concept, built around the same chaotic energy from Mirror to Mirror. It was the way that the story would be tied together, or rather paralleled, that had me at the edge of my seat as Seth’s pulsing bass started to play.
Famous Prophets (Stars) is the second centerpiece on Twin Fantasy, clocking at a jarring 16 minutes, the song still revolves around the eventual aftermath from falling in love too hard, only to realize the ideal parts that you romanticized until exhaustion, only took place inside your head. Prophets encapsulates the crushing loneliness that is also real on a physical plain, as Will laments: “These teenage hands will never touch yours again, but I remember you”. This time around, however, he has returned to his tragedy only to find healing in it, and give it a more hopeful resolution, in a new interpolated climax, meant to be on the original Fantasy (cut out for unknown reasons, it found it’s way into a an underrated collection of outtakes under the title of Unfinished: Pain Star); here, Toledo reflects on his troubled past over sweet piano keys: “And when the mirror breaks, I wouldn’t miss it for the world, call it Blackstar, call it Painstar, the same things happen when you touch it”.
Such is the scope through Face to Face is viewed, as his main character, seven years later, looks at his nervous young former-self, afraid of an uncertain future, and encounters peace, grateful to the fact that he once loved with an intensity so real, he embellished it into a larger-than-life story. That kid eventually found growth, and wouldn’t have had it any other way. The song then, finally explodes to heights a young boy, recording vocals in the back of his car, never sought possible. Prophets’ las moments see the band on full force, as Ethan, steps up front for some tasty rock and roll shredding, while Andrew and Seth give a mighty performance that, despite being all over the place, carry the section until its final, revealing, moments, immediately cementing Famous Prophets its place as a true milestone for indie rock, remember this.
“This is the end of the song, and it is just a song. It's a version of me and you that can exist outside of everything else, and if it is just a fantasy, then anything can happen from here. The contract is up, the names have been changed. So pour one out, whoever you are. These are only lyrics now”.
Such is the last spoken passage on the record and self-titled track, in which Will, extends the narrative he created in the first album, finally giving it closure, so to speak. The organ-led closer, still dwelves on the fabrications we purposely create in order to have something perfect to roam forever in our memories, and knowing that such stories coexist with reality, leaving only us to decide, what it is that truly defines us. For the absolute madman, Will Toledo, his story has transcended (as he always intended) from what he initially conceived as a romance, tied to larger themes, into a dual body of work that exists on its own, resulting in a listening experience that is vast and grandiose in themes and sounds, while constantly being overflown with raw emotion and depth. As for every concern I once had, I can now rest assured: Twin Fantasy remains a triumphant masterpiece, well done, my boys.
“These words will still be true
when you are broken
these words are still true
when you get nothing”