To some, Car Seat Headrest needs no introduction. The last five years have seen the bedroom project of Virginia-bred indie songsmith Will Toledo hammer out over ten full-lengths. That said, the deluge of Bandcamp albums and cassette releases hasn’t exactly been above the radar beyond a bit of blog hype. That could be about to change, though, since the guy’s new album, Teens of Style, comes via much-loved and well-respected indie hub Matador Records. For many, it’s the starting point, and one that arrive like Cliff Notes to the now Seattle-based Toledo’s career, considering its filled with a mixture of tunes both new and old.
The Matador connection is an appropriate one, as many of Teens of Style’s best tracks come across like peak period Guided By Voices, a series of salty salutes to the Midwestern lo-fi greats. “The Drum,” for instance, finds Toledo and his backup band delving into a classic Pollard-ian, carefree rock anthem big on distorted guitars and vocals. Though mostly acoustic, “Bad Role Models, Old Idols Exhumed (psst, teenagers, put your clothes back o)” maintains the vibe with its 4-Track recording aesthetics.
Where Toledo and the Dayton, OH giants differ, however, is the editing. While the latter often lept away from an idea before it even fully crystallized, Car Seat Headrest really like to ride out a melody. “Times to Die,” for instance is a glorious and immediate collision of fried six-strings and echo-blown musings on growing up, but it ultimately ends up undulating towards a shapeless, nearly seven-minute jam. Unsurprisingly, follow-up number “psst, teenagers, take off your clo” is the album’s shortest, most punk-paced piece. Hell, the experiment in brevity even comes with an incomplete song title.
It should be noted, though, that while many of Teens of Style’s songs hover above and beyond the five-minute mark, the material is still relatively trim compared to tracks like his 14-minute Monomania closer “Anchorite (Love You Very Much).”
Interestingly enough, Teens in Style’s “Strangers” is a high-grade blend of sharp and sparkle-spangled six-stringing and falsetto vocal hooks that sounds like it could have been pulled out of the recording sessions behind Deerhunter’s 2013 masterpiece, Monomania. But Toledo was ahead of the garage band, having first delivered his track on 2011’s My Back Is Killing Me Baby.
Idolatry is still a big part of the single, though, with the band leader confessing mid-song: “When I was a kid I fell in love with Michael Stipe. I took lyrics out of context and thought ‘he must be speaking to me.’ ” It’s an interesting and extremely relatable position to be in as a music fan, and one that it’s entirely possible people are applying to Car Seat Headrest’s songbook as he’s pushing himself further into our collective consciousness.
On “Times to Die,” the twenty-something croons: “All of my friends are getting married / All my friends are right with God / All of my friends are making money / But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves.” For teens grinding out freeleases on the Bandcamp circuit, or songwriters still looking for their first big break, the lyrics seem to hint that a life in the arts is worth it in the end. Hopefully the message isn’t being taken out of context with this one.
review by Gregory Adams