Car Seat Headrest’s song (Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem) from 2016 breakthrough record Teens of Denial widely introduced the world to frontman Will Toledo as a lyrical force to be reckoned with.
New album Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) is a high fidelity remake of an original version released to Bandcamp all the way back in 2011, freely available on YouTube, that proves Toledo was a force long before 2016. A record of staggering complexities, as self-referentially clever as it is sonically uplifting, it’s a follow up that capitalises on all the last record’s promise but does something unique in remaking an old album most are unlikely to have ever heard.
Car Seat Headrest earned plenty of comparisons to The Strokes on Teens of Denial, but here Toledo’s wry observations have more in common with another turn of the century New York start up: James Murphy. On Bodys, he speak-sings “We’re thin (most of us)/ We’re alive (most of us)” with the same sort of beat poet nonchalance Murphy has made his trademark.
And while musically Car Seat’s 90s-indebted indie rock is very different, Toledo also shares Murphy’s love of the 10 minute plus epic. Never mind the 11 and a 1/2 minute The Ballad of the Costa Concordia on Teens of Denial; here we get 16 minute penultimate finale Famous Prophets (Stars) and the best 13 minute track two imaginable in Beach Life-in-Death, which introduces us to repeated lyrical motifs that are central to the album such as “The ocean washed over your grave/ The ocean washed open your grave”.
Initially a triumphant roar, by the time the lyric is repeated in Famous Prophets there exists an heir of resignation, reflected in the album’s break up theme. Part coming out album (“I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/ I never came out to my friends”), part break up (“In my years, I have never seen anyone quit quite like you do”), what’s remarkable is the way lyrics and pop culture references are touched on then revisited later. From They Might Be Giants to Ray Bradbury stories, to the way “Stop smoking (We love you)” (from the song of the same name) gets revisited later in High to Death as “Keep smoking, I love you,” there are knowing winks left, right and centre that make it well worth spending time on an annotated lyrics site such as Genius.
(One lyric even recalls: “Twin bruises on my shins/ From where I kicked the back of the seat in”, in reference to Toledo’s early recordings done in the back seat of his car. You couldn’t ask for a better origin story for the Car Seat Headrest band name.)
Twin Fantasy isn’t built around killer singles like Teens of Denial was – there’s no Vincent, Fill in the Blank or Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales that’s going to stand out on the radio this time around – Cute Thing is probably the closest with its irresistible “Give me Frank Ocean’s voice/ And James Brown’s stage presence”.
Hell, when the best track on an album is 13 minutes long, it’s probably going to struggle on the wireless – rather this is an album built around a thematic journey and standout moments, of which there are plenty. After all, not every song on Denial had the same incisive wit as Drugs with Friends, but Twin Fantasy is the full package lyrically. Taken as an entire album, it might be even better its predecessor.