On Feb. 16, the indie-rock band Car Seat Headrest released a re-recording of their sixth LP, “Twin Fantasy.” The band originally unleashed the introspective concept album on the world in 2011, when the outfitwas still just the solo-recording project of suburban sad boy Will Toledo.
It’s hard to discuss the album without first paying homage to Toledo, Headrest’s progenitor and lead vocalist, who named the personal-project-turned-band “Car Seat Headrest” because he recorded the vocals of his first album in the back seat of his car. In 2010, he began self-producing lo-fi concept albums that — often quite explicitly — examined teenage identity, including 2013’s “Nervous Young Man” and 2014’s “How to Leave Town,” before signing with Matador Records in 2015. He was only 19 when he first released “Twin Fantasy” on Bandcamp, and his decision to revisit (and reinvigorate) the album after seven years feels deeply personal.
The original “Twin Fantasy,” like most of Toledo’s early music, was lyrically brilliant but poorly produced — perhaps better described as “lo-fi bedroom indie,” in the words of one Bandcamp fan. Though this DIY aesthetic was a big part of what earned some of the early Headrest albums’ cult followings, it’s now 2018, and Toledo is a successful musician with ample resources to make his original vision a reality. Press releases have stressed that this re-recording “is no shallow second take, sanitized in studio and scrubbed of feeling,” according to a statement written to accompany the album’s release. Rather, “this is the album (Toledo) always wanted to make.”
In the re-recording, Toledo’s lyrics are still sprawling, confused and desperate with longing, but they’re more resolute and pack a bigger punch. It’s still “sad boy” music, sure — a messy memoir littered with allusions to drug use, sexual frustration and shopping malls. But Toledo’s simple poetics and stream-of-consciousness narratives seem to have higher stakes than the average, Dashboard Confessional-esque “sad boy” ballad: They are electrified with urgency and moments of triumph. Many of the tracks in “Twin Fantasy,” like “Beach Life-In-Death,” and “Bodys,” could and should be used to score car-chase scenes in action movies. Others tracks, like “Stop Smoking (We Love You)” are simple and sweet, driven by lyrical repetition and call-and-response. In “Cute Thing” — one of the album’s heavier re-writes — Toledo sings, “Give me Frank Ocean’s voice / And James Brown’s stage presence,” so earnestly that you find yourself wanting to hug him, badly.
The album’s rhythmic variety can be attributed to its “episodic” nature. “Twin Fantasy” is clearly telling a single story and the “you” that Toledo is addressing is clearly a single person — but like a movie, the narrative is delivered piecemeal. “Beach Life-In-Death,” one of the most talked-about songs on the album, is just over thirteen minutes long — a minute longer and a hell of a lot brassier than it was on the original recording. Throughout the tumult of the song, a conflicted Toledo meditates on his love for a friend (“I spent a week in Ocean City / And came back to find that you were gone”), his queer identity (“I don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet”) and the scriptedness of daily life (“What should I do? Eat breakfast / What should I do? Eat lunch”).
In this song and in others, Toledo laments, celebrates, eulogizes, misspeaks and self-corrects — constantly wrestling with the person he feels like he should be, or is, or was. His frequent mention of media platforms like Skype and YouTube might beget ridicule from some, who might regard them as sort of pandering, but these platforms were clearly influential in shaping how he currently thinks about desire — and how the rest of our generation thinks about desire, for that matter.
The album admittedly has a few cringey moments — like in “Bodys” when Toledo asks, “Is it the chorus yet? / No, it’s just the building of the verse / So when the chorus does come it’ll be more rewarding.” While self-awareness is a big part of Toledo’s voice, this meta aside just feels excessive.
Trendy asides aside, there’s something noble about the act of confronting a product of one’s confused and tactless youth and vowing to do it justice. Moreover, some great tension within Toledo seems to have been reconciled in the re-recording. The biggest difference between the two albums, according to the album’s release statement, is that Toledo “no longer sees his own story as a tragedy,” and that change is clearly reflected in the music. With a few more miles on his proverbial speedometer, a seasoned Toledo can channel his teenage malaise with greater acuity.