in Review

Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial

After hearing “Fill In The Blank”, “Vincent”, and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, the first three singles from Car Seat Headrest’s new album, I had a pretty good hunch that their forthcoming Teens Of Denial would end up being my favorite album of the year.  And after having spent a week with it, filled with numerous repeat listens, this hunch seems to be coming to fruition, though I’m not exactly sure where this kind of confidence in an artist’s abilities has come from.  Maybe I’ve just been listening to music and studied the trajectory of artists’ careers for long enough that I can tell when a young artist’s “moment” has finally come.  It happened last year in the lead-up to Courtney Barnett’s debut, and it also kinda happened the year before with The War On Drugs’ Lost In The Dream.  But then again, I’m probably not that unique with these bands.  If you have a discerning enough eye and ear, you can spot where these kinds of special artists are headed.  And when you get down to it, where Car Seat Headrest is headed (heh) doesn’t really matter to me.  All that really matters is that in this moment, I like this album a helluva whole lot.

Also, a big reason my instincts told me this album would be really great, is that Car Seat Headrest frontman Will Toledo is clearly a major songwriting talent on the rise.  Much like Frankie Cosmos, Toledo has been writing, recording, and releasing music as Car Seat Headrest on bandcamp for several years.  So while you could be tempted to scoff at his wiz-kid persona considering the guy’s barely out of college, the fact of the matter is, he’s put in his dues honing his talent.  And with this first original album on Matador (last year’s Teens Of Style was composed of re-recordings of his bandcamp work) you can feel that talent and potential practically bursting at the seams.  At a hefty 70-minutes, Teens Of Denial has the kind of delicious girth that few straight-up indie guitar rock albums have nowadays, which reminds me a bit of the unwieldy album lengths of Modest Mouse — another beloved Pacific Northwest band — during their heyday.

And that’s probably what I’ve enjoyed most about this album — both how much of it there is, and how much of it is great.  Car Seat Headrest’s brand of contemplative ’90s-inspired indie rock isn’t necessarily the kind of sound that you’d think would work for 6+ minute compositions, but whereas most long-ish rocks songs seem more interested in showing off (typically in terms of technical musical prowess), Toledo’s songs go a bit more for the gut.  Take for instance the spoken word section of the 11-minute “The Ballad of Costa Concordia”, where Toledo goes full on confessional, constantly invoking the phrase “How was I supposed to know?”  And then you have the incredibly affecting “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, which might be the best song I’ve ever heard about the simultaneous helplessness and senselessness of being killed by a drunk driver.

It’s that sensitivity and thoughtfulness that I think makes this such a potent record, since as I said, the epic song-lengths and more polished sound of these recordings could’ve easily made this thing feel bloated.  But veteran producer Phil Lesh lends the band a steady hand, inconceivably making everything sound big and small at the same time.  But also, it’s just a really fun record to rock out to.  Toledo and Lesh clearly seem to have been toying with forming a more muscular version of Car Seat Headrest, while keeping in mind that the head and the heart are still the most powerful muscles of all.  Well, that and the rock muscle, wherever that’s located…

Favorite Tracks: “Fill In The Blank”, “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”