COURTESY OF KENNY SUN/CC BY-SA 2.0
Car Seat Headrest's Will Toledo successfully reworked Twin Fantasy.
The muted bass that introduces “My Boy” is slow, delicate and groovy. Within two minutes, there is a flood of biting guitars and Will Toledo, the lead singer, is wailing into the microphone. This is the prototype for the usual Car Seat Headrest song.
Car Seat Headrest is an indie rock project — originally from Virginia but now based in Seattle — founded by aforementioned singer/songwriter Will Toledo. They excel at hovering somewhere between the delicate, emotional potency of quiet ballads and the bite and grit of a band like The Strokes.
Having released 12 albums on Bandcamp, the band is thoroughly prolific. With their previous project, Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest moved away from lo-fi, dingy, bedroom recordings to higher quality, professional, well produced music.
On their new album Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), Car Seat Headrest are doing something truly unique: personally remastering their own project from 2012 by rerecording all of the songs. While all of the songwriting is basically untouched, this re-release gives us an excuse to go back to one of the hallmark indie-rock projects of our generation.
Let’s start with the technicalities. This project sounds better than the first to any objective ear. Whereas the first album was clearly created in someone’s room with cheap, small microphones, the new version sounds pristine.
Serious Headrest fans could argue that the new recording ruins some of the unique low-fi qualities of the first album. I disagree; the new revamped sound allows the grittiness and grimness of the guitars and basses to shine fully.
The licks that define most of the songs on this project are tougher, louder, clearer and bite much harder than on the first project. Most improved are the vocals, which are no longer echo-laden, compressed and walkie-talkie-like. Toledo’s lyrics hang far above mix, clear and pure.
Now back to the music itself: This is a great album — one that is rightly revered by Car Seat Headrest fans. The songwriting is tight, and the songs flow from one to the other perfectly.
Toledo takes some significant risks, (including two songs over 10 minutes) but those risks pay off and are some of the most epic tracks on the project.
The most important song on this project is probably the 13 minute “Beach Life-In-Death,” which builds with potency from a slick melody to a flood of rushing guitars.
There are screams of “I am incapable of being a human,” then the rhythm slows down again, building to another climax before fading out. This is the power of a band like Car Seat Headrest, who defy all conventions and commit to experiments.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Stop Smoking (We Love You),” which is one of the shortest tracks. The melody, the lyrics and the delivery are all exceptionally simple.
Nonetheless, something about the wails of “We don’t want you to die” at the end feel so frank, honest and heart-wrenching that it’s hard not to be swayed.
The “Stop Smoking” motif comes back, in a very clever way, on the song “High to Death,” a partner to “Sober to Death.” Toledo switches the lyrics to “Keep smoking / I still love you / But I don’t want to die,” exemplary of the transformation and development that the narrator of this project goes through with each song.
The cover, with the two weird animal beings which are in this uncomfortable, physically impossible embrace, is a perfect representation of the theme of this album.
There is a focus on doubles and contrast; every thought, idea or song has its opposite. Look at the beginning of the song “Bodys,” which starts with this inverted statement: “That’s not what I meant to say at all / I mean, I’m sick of meaning.”
On the song, Toledo flips between being utterly self-conscious and paranoid to completely in his element. The album starts with the song “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” and ends with “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” another inversion, where the lyrics in the chorus go from “My” (the personal possessive) to “They.”
Toledo oscillates between telling poetic, frilly stories using metaphors and figurative language to laying down intense, powerful one-liners, like the memorable “Good stories are bad lives” on “Sober to Death” to push his point forward.
The only issue I have with this project is I feel that sometimes Toledo gets overly impressed with his own cleverness. Occasionally he goes too far and the music starts to feel pretentious.
The worst is at the end of “Nervous Young Inhumans,” where he starts to preach, mumbling these empty meant-to-be-deep lines.
The monologue feels cheap and false: “I don’t waste time on evil,” he mumbles in this rant of pseudo-intellect. The same thing happens on the song “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” where he tries to explain the entire album within a verse.
Aside from those minor missteps, this is a phenomenal re-recording of a fantastic album. Car Seat Headrest succeeds at keeping the spirit and style of the original project, while significantly improving the listenability.
This is a fun, exciting listen — and one that you won’t forget. The songs are earworms, and the lyrics pack a deeper and deeper punch with each relisten. True appreciation of the work comes after dozens of replays as you catch more and more of the nuances.