Indie rock fans find comfort in Car Seat Headrest
NORTH ADAMS — Even by band name standards, Car Seat Headrest is oddly specific and inanimate. The moniker isn't as tongue-in-cheek as it sounds, though; it represents an image, a point of view, a history.
When Will Toledo was in his late teens, the indie rocker began recording songs on his laptop while sitting in the back seat of his car, parking in lots near his home in Leesburg, Va. He started releasing albums on Bandcamp — the music distribution platform founded in 2007 — in 2010. One of the records was "Twin Fantasy." The 2011 batch of lo-fi songs commented on teen desire and helped Toledo build a deep-internet cult following. In 2018, now with a full band and indie label Matador backing him, Toledo decided to release new recordings of the album's tunes. The sonic and lyrical tweaks led to a host of inclusions on best-album-of-the-year lists and have fueled a tour with Naked Giants that stops at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's Hunter Center on Friday, Feb. 15.
"It was always the plan to go back to it," Toledo writes in an FAQ about the reimagined record. "I actually had it listed in my contract with Matador along with 'Teens of Style' and 'Teens of Denial'; it was a three-album deal. I was never satisfied with the original even at the time. I wanted it to sound much bigger."
Sounds of the 1960s partly inspire that expansion.
"Love-struck sixties pop was music in its purest form to me," Toledo writes.
The single "Bodys" underwent a significant transformation, turning into a bona fide pop song with the help of band members Ethan Ives, Seth Dalby and Andrew Katz. The group played it on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" to much acclaim.
"This was a very hard song to get right, and one of the last to come into place. I had to figure out how it could be a pop song and still have all this different stuff going inside it, when it's really just one note," Toledo writes. "It sounds kind of hyperreal to me, or hyperfocused, which works because it's right in the middle of the album, which is where the fantasy seems the most real, or where it starts to get too real."
From a sonic perspective, the new recordings don't always differ greatly from their original versions, and they're still rooted in lyrical detail. Thirteen-minute "Beach Life-in-Death" mentions speed limit changes and a "nice young satanist with braces" while ruminating on a same-sex romance.
"We said we hated humans / We wanted to be humans," Toledo sings.
The frontman agreed with an interviewer that the line feels like a thesis statement for the album, which follows 2016's "Teens of Denial." The band's first studio record helped elevate Toledo's stature from 4chan favorite to rising rock star.
"'Teens of Denial' is guitar-driven music filled with booksmart lyrics concerned largely with depression, which naturally means that Toledo has been championed in some circles as an 'indie rock savior,' whatever that means," Jeremy Gordon writes for Pitchfork.
Toledo has also gained attention for some pointed social media comments, including tweets scolding some of his Reddit fanbase and Wes Anderson's "Isle Of Dogs" in early 2018. But "Twin Fantasy" has been his enduring message from that period.
"You can say it's about love," he said of the album. "Isn't that enough?"
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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