Still tugging heartstrings in 2018
Lo-fi indie critic darlings, Car Seat Headrest, are back it again with the follow up to their acclaimed Teens of Denial. However, this addition to their catalog, instead of a leap forward, is a pause to reflect back on their Twin Fantasy album. It is a complete re-do of Twin Fantasy with the addition (Face to Face) in the title. While not their best-known album, Twin Fantasy was an album that garnered Car Seat Headrest lots of hype from lo-fi fans all over the internet. Having been recorded on a laptop microphone, solely by frontman Will Toledo, that admirable feat is being updated here with more expensive and professional technology. But even though the fidelity may have changed, the heart of gold at the center of all that fuzz is still just as palpable.
The original album is only available on Bandcamp and *gasp* not Spotify! It really takes a caravan of googling four words and clicking on a link like a caveman to get the original recordings, but when one does, it’s fascinating to compare the two and see just how far Car Seat Headrest has come. The first observation that strikes the listener comes from the opener, “My Boy (Twin Fantasy).” One has come to expect songwriting of Car Seat Headrest that stays much in the realm of full-feeling alternative anthems, but “My Boy” enters with a subtlety not expected of the band. The song has a sixties pop feel that conveys a gentleness that makes a lot of sense when one compares to the original which has much more reverb and melodicism. It’s an interesting peek into where Toledo began as a songwriter.
The tone that the first two songs set leads the listener to expect a cute and simple sound for the album, but forgets the secret punch that Car Seat Headrest is capable of delivering. This comes in full force with the quiet but poignant “Stop Smoking.” The message is simple: “Stop smoking, we love you. And, we don’t want you to die.” One realizes how it’s almost a forgotten art to make such simple and straightforward songs. Even if you’re not a smoker, you can’t listen to this song and not reevaluate your life choices. Authenticity is the name of the game in a lot of music right now, and this album delivers exactly that.
After some more relatable lyrics served fresh via the honest, slightly insecure spoken word section on “Nervous Young Inhumans,” one notices the Modest Mouse twangy guitars in the background. Another one of Toledo’s influences shows itself and provides context as to where the emotional, direct lyrics come from. Heading back to the Bandcamp original, the song “Cute Thing” specifically shows the shift in style not just from Car Seat Headrest, but indie music as a whole. The original is a lot more jangly and rough around the edges. The new version, obviously while being a lot fuller and smooth sounding, has a fascinating change in the lyrics. “God, give me Doug Sandom’s voice and give me John Entwistle’s stage presence,” changes the names in the new album to Frank Ocean and James Brown – from classic rock to R&B and Soul. It’s a subtle change, but when both are referred to as rock stars, it becomes very clear where indie music’s aspirations have shifted since 2011.
After sweet and oh-so-melancholy redoes of songs “High to Death” and “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” there is little doubt after comparing both albums that Car Seat Headrest knows what makes indie alternative music sound good, and that they still are going to know well into the future.