Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
Car Seat Headrest is not someone who ever chooses the safe option. The Seattle musician Will Toledo’s second effort with Matador, Teens Of Denial, comes only 6 months after opening offer Teens Of Style, keeping up his prolific rate of release. Teens Of Denial is treated almost like a live set, with quiet spoken interjections shaping the album, subtly bringing a much more personal aspect to it.
The opening duo of tracks perfectly capture the duality of Toledo’s musical priorities; punchy, scratchy opener ‘Fill In The Blank’ beckons you into the Car Seat Headrest soundworld, with an ounce of inventive harmonies and a huge dollop of fuzz. It’s a real footstomper, and sees Toledo’s songwriting at its simplistic best. While the backline is abrasive, and verges on being out of control, the vocals fill in the gaps with stepwise melodies and warm harmonies. Lyrically too, Toledo gets it spot on – beginning with an angry retort to those that are depressed, his accusations finally turn on himself with a biting self-evaluation to finish.
In contrast, the 8-minute second song ‘Vincent’ brings out the other side to Toledo’s character, one of ambition for bigger and wilder things. A 2-minute wavering intro of pure multi-tracked guitar and studio trickery suggests a move toward something calmer – that is until drums slowly enter and scupper any peace and quiet. It’s unnecessarily long introductions like this that make Car Seat Headrest such an exciting prospect: he never does things by halves. ‘Vincent’ employs an exuberant brass section to whack up the energy even more, while toward the end there’s a kind of breakdown where multiple squeals of feedback become a musical texture of sorts. It’s mad, and in some cases superfluous, but this level of invention is at the very least charming, and at most a spark of genius.
These two formulas come back time and again – there’s the nostalgic and classically lazy ‘(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends’, which sticks largely to two chords for the majority of the song, while simultaneously creating an incredibly clear image of youth and timelessness. Then there’s ‘Cosmic Hero’, which opens with a sombre brass lament of sorts, later branching out into a fuzzy, buzzy epic. Though many of these songs go beyond 5 minutes – indeed, ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’, which goes to many places including a Dido quotation of all things, is pushing 12 minutes – you’re rarely left feeling bored.
Perhaps it’s the live sensibility of the album, letting it feel more like a jam, or perhaps it’s because Toledo doesn’t like to stick in one mode for very long. The worst that you could say about Teens of Denial is that it is not a masterpiece – the edges are too sharp, the songs too baggy, for this to be really considered a modern classic. It is instead the reaffirmation of Car Seat Headrest as a formidable songwriter, and another wonderful trip into his fiery brain.