words by ewan blacklaw (@ewanblacklaw)
The new release from American indie rock outfit Car Seat Headrest isn’t quite as new as you’d expect: originally released back in 2011 by Will Toledo, Twin Fantasy was the sixth self released album by the act and showcased Toledo’s knack of crafting brilliant songs via a certain tone, witty (often controversial) lyrics or some mish mash of the two. The personal, somewhat handmade feel that Twin Fantasy evoked made it one that was definitely worth revisiting despite it’s crude lo-fi aesthetic meaning it wasn’t quite as accessible compared to the studio releases that would follow.
2016’s Teens of Denial was one of said studio releases and while it was far from bad (it received widespread critical acclaim which ended up further expanding CSH’s fan base) it did see Toledo take a bit of a different approach to his songwriting, keeping with his relatable millennial themes but making them less personal, often feeling like generalisations.
With new found popularity means that the chances your entire discography will be getting inspected which no doubt terrified Toledo: “listen to his first attempt, recorded at nineteen on a cheap laptop, and you’ll hear what Brian Eno fondly calls “the sound of failure” was part of the third person statement released upon the announcement Twin Fantasy, now subtitled (Face to Face) to avoid confusion with the 2011 original, wouldn’t so much be getting a touch up as opposed to a complete redo.
This remake truly feels like an instant cult classic that will be looked back upon as a staple of 2010s indie rock. The album has been regenerated from a lo-fi diary of a teenager’s inner thoughts to a masterfully concocted soundtrack of a time in the life of someone who is growing, constantly learning about themselves. The lyrics show the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with growing up, in an especially transitional time, turning from teenager to adult. This is one of the main themes that makes the album so familiar and comforting, writing songs that create this feeling of relatability takes a level of skill that few can achieve.
It appears that with this remake Will Toledo has fully grasped the production and instrumental capabilities that were perhaps not available to him back in 2011 and has come back to some of his finest work. This decision is commendable as it may have been a tough choice between moving the sound of Car Seat Headrest forward, continuing in the path of albums such as How to Leave Town and Teens of Denial, which have brought success to the band, or going back to an old release that many may have forgotten about by some. This decision has paid off immensely, fusing the distinct indie rock sound that has been created by Car Seat Headrest with their past few albums with the fantastic, raw lyrics that were written before any major success.
The album ties in synthesizers to the prominently guitar-based sound of Car Seat Headrest, adding an extra layer to the texture. Will Toledo’s vocals sound as good as ever, with his almost whiny tone being overlaid so that he is both the lead and back-up singer on most tracks. This self-harmonisation works very well to create an atmospheric sound that ties in really nicely, particularly on some of the longer ballads on the track listing. One thing that can be heard in the vocal performance on the album is that it feels more raw and emotional than some on some previous releases.
This could be due to the more personal subject matter, and can be heard immediately on the opening track, “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” as well as throughout the album. The spoken word segments present in some tracks can break up the tacks nicely, keeping anything from getting stale-sounding, as well as offering a deeper insight into some of the lyrics, like on the closing tack, Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)”.
It is also worth noting that the lyrics about depression and the struggle of expressing your sexuality on “Beach Life-In-Death” are some of the best approaches to such sensitive issues within any indie rock song. These stories that are told do not only express the emotions of an individual, but allow outsiders a window to relate and understand the issues that the individual is going through. This is something that could be said is often missing in the discussion on sensitive, personal issues such as mental illness and sexuality, often just focusing on one viewpoint or the other. The combination of these viewpoints is one of the things that really makes the album feel special.
Twin Fantasy is the best release from Car Seat Headrest so far. It is up there as one of the best rock albums of the past few years and should be looked back at as an indie essential of the decade. Last year it may have seemed near impossible task to outdo Teens of Denial however, equipped with resources such as better production and band-mates, Car Seat Headrest have yet again surpassed expectations.