It’s not very often I encounter an artist as impressional as Car Seat Headrest. I saw the music video for the single “Times to Die,” from his new album Teens of Style, and was instantly hooked. The lyrics resonated with me on a personal level, the chorus was so catchy, and something about his voice was haunting: I had to hear more. I went back and downloaded his 2014 release How to Leave Town from his bandcamp page, and I fell in love. For two weeks straight I couldn’t stop listening to the droney vocals, side-by-side with upbeat rock and roll instrumentals. It was like every era of Beck was infused with the Beach Boys and Alex G to create this unbelievably addictive sound. Tracks like “America (Never Been),” “You’re in Love with Me,” and “Kimochi Warui (When? When? When? When? When? When? When?)” were constantly on repeat (and still are). So when I found out that Car Seat’s next album was being released in just a few weeks, I could hardly wait.
Teens of Style is the first studio release for Virginia native Will Toledo. He’s been writing, recording, and producing his own records (11 of them to be exact) under the pseudonym Car Seat Headrest since 2010. Since he first started recording, he went to college, and found out that his DIY lo-fi indie rock was gaining more and more attention online. He moved out to Seattle in order to form a stable touring band, and was contacted by Matador records about making his next record. This release is a compilation, with each of the songs having been recorded previously on his other records (most coming from My Back is Killing Me Baby). Toledo has stated in interviews that he has always liked the idea of compilations, he grew up listening to them. So that it made sense for his first studio album to be a remaking of some of his older material, since he previously didn’t have the resources to produce the songs to a level he was content with. The LP is going to be followed up by a release in 2016 called Teens of Denial, which will be full of all new material.
The album starts with “Sunburned Shirts,” a punchy, Panda Bear-eque tune. It’s a solid start for the record, and gives listeners a pretty good idea of what they’re in for with the rest of the LP. Throughout the album, the lyrics get increasingly personal and honest. Songs like “Something Soon” feature lines like “I want to turn down the goddamn TV/Binging on the latest sitcom/Feeling guilty every second it’s on,” then on “No Passion” Toledo wails “I know who stole my face but I don’t know who will replace it….I’ve got plenty of love but nothing to show for it.” The juxtaposition of extreme detail on top of messy ambiguity creates lots of profound emotion in his music. The underlying message of his songs is often unclear, but each of them is filled to the brim with feeling; be it depression, desperation, loneliness, or, on songs like “Maud Gone,” heart-break. Over the sound of an empty, distant drum machine he drearily spills the lines: “…and when I fall asleep/Which part of me writes the dream/And which part falls asleep?/Who’s running the Machine?…Maud, now you’re gone.”
Ending Teens is the almost happy tune “Oh! Starving.” It’s a goodbye song, appropriate for a finale. The song is a strange prayer for a return to times of dissatisfaction and being broke, “I used to enjoy being worried/But now everything is fine/I wish I could go back to those unhappier times.” The character that Toledo creates for himself as Car Seat Headrest fits in like a missing puzzle piece in the era of spilling your soul on social media and perpetual self pity. His brutal honesty calls himself (and in turn, listeners) out on all of the nonsense we depress ourselves with for no reason. The attention to detail demonstrates the true level of artistry and maturity he has developed in his great 22 years of life. And the depth and span of emotion he so effortlessly gives his songs is what makes him my favorite new artist of 2015. Teens of Style is definitely up there as one of my favorite albums of the year, and I can’t wait for Teens of Denial to come out in a couple of months.