Car Seat Headrest Moves Forward by Looking Back with “Twin Fantasy”
By Skyler Romero
Will Toledo, the man responsible for the band/musical project known as Car Seat Headrest, loves himself a nice, rousing anthem. This is the overwhelming impression created by listening to “Twin Fantasy,” his new big-budget re-recording of his own 2011 album of the same name. The album is chock-full of dramatic crescendos that build and build on top of each other, aided by deafening guitar distortion and pounding drums. Toledo’s voice, frequently heard escalating from a low murmur to a frantic holler over the course of a song, rounds out the buildup. While the construction of these soaring epics (several songs clock in at ten minutes or longer) appears to be among Toledo’s strong suits, he manages to avoid getting stuck in this mode by complimenting the loud parts with moments of quiet introspection, often appearing as separate movements within the same song.
The album’s lead single “Beach Life-In-Death” serves as a perfect encapsulation of Toledo’s varied approach to song construction. He hits the ground running with a surf-garage-punk opening that pairs a low monotone vocal by Toledo with a rapid-fire guitar reminiscent of early “Wavves.” The track layers in heavier instrumentation and overdubbed backup vocals behind Toledo’s rapidly fraying vocals until reaching a culmination. One might be forgiven for assuming this is the end of the song; but instead, the track slows down and settles into a pensive, palm-muted chord progression. These elements are accompanied by more subdued vocals from Toledo that chronicle the minor trials and anxieties of a same-sex couple who “don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet,” but do know they could use some more groceries. This is before the song abruptly shifts back to its initial style, allowing the buildup to resume and guide the listener to the end on the back of the repeated refrain, “The ocean washed over your grave / The ocean washed open your grave,” before an equally abrupt, knowingly anticlimactic cut-off ending.
Toledo’s multi-faceted construction appears on several tracks throughout “Twin Fantasy,” and Toledo seems to derive satisfaction by juxtaposing wildly divergent musical styles against each other, often within the same song. The second single “Nervous Young Inhumans,” for example, starts off in a 2000’s dance-rock style in the vein of the Killers or the Bravery, punctuated by quieter verses that utilize Strokes-esque guitar soloing. Around the halfway mark, however, the densely layered production melts away in favor of a melancholy bass riff and some spoken-word musings. Once again an expectation is set up (that this section is an interlude that will inevitably give way to the return of the song’s original arrangement, as in “Beach Life-In-Death) only for Toledo to pointedly avoid fulfilling that expectation by simply ending the song at the conclusion of his monologue.
That push and pull of expectation and subversion, satisfaction, and anti-climax, bellowing confidence and creeping insecurity, can be felt all the way through the album’s runtime. In addition to the jarring genre shifts and playful bait-and-switch Toledo employs, his lyrics, by turns fretful and wryly sarcastic, are a counterpoint to the bombastic musical arrangements. Tracks like “Cute Thing” find Toledo fumbling to impress a prospective lover with promises of, “a week of debauchery / Songs and high fives and weird sex,” and offers to, “be your rock god, when you’re rolling the dice,” his signature washes of anthemic garage rock pounding away all the while.
Toledo is a musical craftsman who wears his influences on his sleeve, and the sound of “Twin Fantasy” is heavily indebted to the indie rock of years past, from ‘90s luminaries like Pavement and “Blue Album”-era Weezer to new-millennium darlings like the Strokes or Wavves. Listening to this album, it’s not at all difficult to guess what Toledo’s music collection looked like as he grew up, and in less creative hands, “Twin Fantasy” could have easily devolved into a dull, derivative bore. However, Toledo maintains an ambitious creative drive that pushes him to defy expectations even though his similarities to other artists come with a set of their own. The result is an album that recalls the classics of the genre while remaining a distinctive creation that would be difficult to mistake for the work of anyone but Will Toledo and Car Seat Headrest.