Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

Filled with insecurities, teenage love, weird sex, bruised shins and what Brian Eno would fondly term, “The sound of failure,” Twin Fantasy was always an unfinished concept for Will Toledo, frontman of the now-cultist Car Seat Headrest. Teens of Denial was 2016’s effort from the Seattle punk-rockers and, to an extent, began to put the fuel of commercial success into Toledo’s concept. Now 2018 brings Twin Fantasy: a re-working and upgrade of a 19-year-old Toledo. Now equipped with a recording mechanic stable enough to get across his tongue-in-cheek irony and hyper-aware lyricism, we are blessed again with his astute way with words and faculty for a contagious hook.

Twin Fantasy has become adored amongst Toledo’s fanbase, it has engaged in live sets for many a year since its 2011 christening and, even though it still wears its awkward college-drop-out aroma, it no longer deserves to get bullied in such a way. Toledo’s drawl engages from the off with recent single ‘My Boy’, his voice fluctuating to his idiosyncratic yelp through realms of loose guitar lines before crashing back down like a wounded dog. ‘Beach Life-In-Death’ catches Toledo on a different foot, firing lyrics through a cacophony of layered guitars and frantic rhythm, building up to his reputation for being quite the maximalist. Gosh, who would have thought such a thing would exist in today’s hard-on for minimalism, you can almost hear IKEA weeping in the corner. 

Initially uploaded in Will’s second year at William & Mary – his seventh Bandcamp release in less than two years under the Car Seat Headrest moniker – the album was written to be a concept that worked around a dysfunctional and awkward relationship. Built upon tarnished egos, shameful sexual encounters and the collapse of love, this was Toledo poking fun at modern love (Valentine’s Day went okay for everyone this week then?) but his music needed that edge which his 2011 setup could not accommodate for. Power is now sewn between the quadruple-layered vocals (‘Sober to Death’), guitars carry more bite whereas before they hit you like blunt razors (i.e. little blood, but plenty of acne) and rhythm sections carry an urgency and immediacy (‘Famous Prophets (Stars)’); these tracks can now live in a recorded environment as well as a live one.

Aesthetically Toledo’s sound touches on the garage-rock of The Strokes, the haphazardness of Stephen Malkmus with the narratives of Adam Green wound in for good measure. ‘Stop Smoking (We Love You)’ is an acoustic touch on the album:“We don’t want you to die” calls Toledo, placing the track almost as a sarcastic jab at whining parents. With the album’s cleanliness it concedes some of its previous charms; its anguish, frustration and lo-fi scuzz gave it that mucky, shameful feeling, but a notion that was inherent to its personality. ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’ now carries the same festival-feel that ‘Drunk Drivers (Killer Whales)’ and ‘Destroyed By Hippie Powers’ do, but its tension is undercut a little bit by the crystal clear guitar lines and audible vocals. 

It’s brave though, for an artist to re-walk shoes, re-mould difficult landscapes and, ultimately, address teenage life. Overall, it feels that, despite charm giving way here and there, it is the album’s initial weaker cuts that needed modifying more than anything else. It is a pedantic’s task to pick apart clarity and hang on to ‘lo-fi charm’ for the ‘authenticity’ of it. His stories are now given a platform to be heard and comprehended properly, to understand his narrative is essential to understanding Twin Fantasy for what it truly is, which is the trials and tribulations of a teenage man. ‘Bodys’ speaks truly, addressing the weighty expectation of being on the cusp of two decades old – “But so what? We’re young. We’re thin (most of us) / We’re alive (most of us) / Don’t you realise, our bodies could fall apart any second?” whilst, in a very meta way, poking fun at Toledo’s songwriting: “Is it the Chorus yet? / No, it’s just the building of the verse, so when the chorus does come it’ll be more rewarding.”

Toledo ties in glimmers of American lo-fi indie-rock heritage but, rather than succumbing to their ways – and realising that lo-fi is an optional aesthetic rather than a necessity – he dresses his music in a new gown, fit for the wedding he is heading towards. ‘Cute Thing’ is a rapturous explosion, humming with Dinosaur Jr (“Give me Frank Ocean’s voice / And James Brown’s stage presence”) but it sounds bold, it sounds purposeful. Twin Fantasy is a success, it oozes a new character whilst telling the same essential stories. Will no longer feels fury here, he feels forgiveness, he feels childishness rather than woundings – this a bold step of maturity, wrapped within the same brilliant music robe.

Tom Churchill