Will Toledo, the driving force behind Car Seat Headrest, might very well be the poster child for a Bandcamp success story. Car Seat Headrest began as a solo project in 2010 with Toledo recording the vocals of his first albums in the backseat of his car for privacy, hence the name. Over the years, Toledo self-released eleven albums on Bandcamp and gained popularity in the DIY scene before signing a deal with Matador Records in September 2015. “Teens of Style,” a compilation album of the best of Toledo’s self-released music was released under the label a month later, quickly placing the name Car Seat Headrest on the radar. However, something much bigger came in May 2016 with the release of “Teens of Denial,” featuring an all-new collection of songs recorded in studio with a full band. Despite the cleaner production and bigger budget, Toledo’s DIY style still shines through, and the result is a raw, moody, and emotive album that has made quite a splash in the indie music scene.
The album opens with a female voice announcing, “What’s up guys? You are now listening to… uh… Car Seat Headrest.” Her confused tone suggests that she’s never heard of the band, which is something the band probably experiences quite often given Toledo’s interesting beginnings and recent recognition. However, the band instantly makes their name known as the first song, ‘Fill in the Blank’, progresses into jagged, powerful guitar riffs and an ever so resonating opening lyric, “I’m so sick of (fill in the blank),” setting the tone for the rest of the album. Although this tone may be one of melancholy and angst, it is done so in such a confident and powerful way that makes the album exciting rather than depressing.
Furthermore, Toledo explores themes that are incredibly common and relatable, as dark as they may be. Slacker rock anthems, ‘Destroyed by Hippie Powers’ and ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ delve into the frightening down-side of party culture while later songs like ‘Not What I Needed’ and ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’ play around with feelings of uncertainty and helplessness. The album reaches its end gently with ‘Joe Goes to School,’ a short, but sweet acoustic track that actually came to Toledo while riding his bike to class in Williamsburg. Overall, “Teens of Denial” captures the feelings of emptiness and confusion that can come with the beginning of adulthood, making it hit home with the younger crowd facing the same struggles. Yet, Toledo expresses these feelings in such a dry, but witty, way with his lyrics that creates anthem-like songs and gives listeners the feelings that it’s all going to be okay.
In addition to the understandable themes and impactful lyrics, the instrumentation ties everything together to create the ambitious, thrilling, and vibrant musical journey that is “Teens of Denial.” Pummeling, distorted guitar riffs and mini drum solos contrast more somber moments of acoustic guitar and piano. All of this is set against deadpan, yet poetic vocals that somehow blend together flawlessly. Unique instruments like horns and cowbell (yes, I said cowbell) are also played with on a few songs, further setting this album apart from other current indie rock albums.
Although Toledo is now twelve albums into his career as Car Seat Headrest, he shows no signs of stopping. With a record full of expressive and ambitious rock songs, Toledo displays his musical talent and lyrical genius while still holding on to his DIY bedroom-rock roots. “Teens of Denial” is a raw, cathartic album full of complex, yet relatable themes. As a whole, the album showcases Toledo’s impressive songwriting but still has that hard-hitting rock sound that is, of course, incredibly conducive to head-banging. With the impact that Car Seat Headrest has already made, I’m sure this won’t be the last of them. Overall 10/10.
Recommended for those who like: The Strokes, The Pixies, Courtney Barnett, Sonic Youth, DIIV.
Essential tracks: Fill in the Blank, Destroyed by Hippie Powers, Drunk Driver/Killer Whales, 1937 Skate Park… actually just the whole album.