Artist: Car Seat Headrest
Genre: Indie Rock
Put-it-on-a-Playlist: “My Boy (Twin Fantasy),” “Sober to Death,” “Bodys,” “Cute Thing”
Now that Will Toledo’s budget has increased, there’s no better time than now to mine the back catalogue for the gold that wasn’t there the first time. This re-recorded version of 2011’s Twin Fantasy is a new thing entirely—cleaner, brighter and even more ambitious.
With 2016’s Teens of Denial, Toledo emerged as one of rock’s most engaging lyricists. Twin Fantasy confirms he should have been in the discussion since the very start. He is humorous, passionate and without pretension. Above all, he is relatable, and has a relatable tone of voice to match, which is wonderfully melodic in a Stephen Malkmus type of way, containing a knowledgeable inflection that carries with it trust—this is a guy we want to root for.
“My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” starts off with a “Just Like Honey” progression, with crackling amps paying tribute to Car Seat Headrest’s lo-fi roots. When the song finally does explode, it is a glorious firework of guitars and voice. Though his music can best be described as indie garage rock, Toledo’s songs often follow a post-rock blueprint—peaceful valleys giving way to roaring climaxes.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s two epics— “Beach Life-In-Death” and “Famous Prophets (Stars),” both 13- and 16-minutes respectively. These lengthy suites are classic rockers in the old-school sense of the term, adjudicating Car Seat Headrest as a truer representation of rockism than even The War on Drugs. I think it’s safe to say that, with a little seasoning, Toledo’s band could end up becoming, er, the Great White Hope with a fair shot at saving guitar music.
Elsewhere, Toledo’s wit carries the way, and the impossibly catchy riffs and melodies only reinforce their universal truths. “We were wrecks before we crashed into each other” and “Every conversation ends with you screaming/Not even words, just ah-ah-ah-ah-AAAHHHH” are both symptoms of being “Sober to Death.” Or, maybe, “High to Death.” He holds that note for 12 seconds, by the way.
Yet with a lyricist as clever as Toledo, there are bound to be moments when he gets a little too clever for his own good. A little too meta, if you know what I mean. Surprisingly, it’s not when he sings to God to “give me Frank Ocean’s voice and James Brown’s stage presence,” or, to us, “Is it the chorus yet?/No, it’s just the building of the verse”—rather, it is the spoken word segments that are excessive. Something he must have picked up from Slint when he should have been going for Smiths.
2010s indie rock has stagnated under uncertain trends. Roughly one half of the spectrum is mixing rock with electronica, while the other hopelessly clings to garage rock nostalgia. Car Seat Headrest is quite possibly the best to emerge from the latter—the ambition of Titus Andronicus (remember them?), the mythic spirit of Japandroids (yuck), and the cool accessibility of Cloud Nothings (interesting), all blended into a glorious mixture of semi-noisy guitars that time-stamps the movement in a way those other bands never could. Car Seat Headrest is definite.
With not a single weak song on the album, Twin Fantasy’s only problem could be that it runs too long (like all of Car Seat Headrest’s albums). Does anyone have the time for 15-minute pop-punk epics anymore? Here’s a better question—were there ever 15-minute pop-punk epics to begin with? Toledo is approaching visionary status.