By Paige Daniel
Will Toledo, the front man of the rising rock band Car Seat Headrest, was one of 2017’s “indie darlings.” Really, the indie music community goes wild for any literate rocker who has their thumb in grandiose song constructions, and Toledo fit the bill. It’s hard to buy the hype when they pick a new darling rather often, but Car Seat Headrest is worth the hype.
Toledo is infamous for his Bandcamp albums, another lo-fi artist like Soccer Mommy who posted to their account as if it was an auditory journal in their late teens.
One of his greatest successes on Bandcamp was an album named “Twin Fantasy” (2011); technically it was rock, but its low-quality recording value flattened the guitars to undistinguished noise.
This year, the 26-year-old Toledo re-released “Twin Fantasy” in February after recording it professionally in a studio, and it is even better this time around.
For some more background, Toledo started Car Seat Headrest as a personal project when he began recording songs in the backseat of his car, penning “Twin Fantasy” in college. This “Twin Fantasy” re-release is his 15th album.
“Twin Fantasy” follows a romantic relationship from its beginning to its eventual demise. Toledo’s preceding albums, the double-feature of “Teens of Style” (2015) and “Teens of Denial” (2016), were wrapped up in recalling the heady memories of youth while coming into adulthood and its perils.
“Twin Fantasy” is not wrapped up in recollection so much as direct lived experience, given that the album was written amidst heartbreak.
The muscularity of “Twin Fantasy”’s rock, a genre often considered in a tradition of masculine norms, is tempered by its subject matter: a queer relationship.
The opener “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” is a bookend that mirrors the closer “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” in the spirit of a barbershop quartet; Toledo doesn’t hide his inspirations, with the Beach Boys undoubtedly staking a claim in his work.
After that, trying to determine inspirations is a silly game, because “Beach Life-In Death” blows any expectations out of the water. Toledo has come to be known for his prolific lyricism and long-windedness, and “Beach Life-In Death” is a marathon sprint.
At 13 minutes long, the track is a testament to the deeply involved and endlessly interpretable nature of Toledo’s lyrics, which have energized much fan discussion.
What is so interesting about “Beach Life-In-Death” is not its heavy guitars that rev and collapse, but its self-examination by way of intertextuality. Life-In-Death is the name of a character from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and its connections to Toledo’s song have been parsed out many times before.
He captures the excitement of potential romance, and then brings it crashing down in a tidal wave of self-doubting solipsism, from coaxing himself through his daily routine to worrying about the state of his mental health.
The intertextual references don’t stop once the song is over, as Toledo strings together elaborate connections between the songs themselves. This is notable in the somewhat parallel titles of “Sober to Death,” and “High to Death,” two songs that act as the warm and cool sides of a pillow.
Where “Sober to Death” is deceptively upbeat, portraying humans as ghostly shells reaching for meaning, “High to Death” embraces the feeling of meaninglessness that permeates a relationship’s denouement.
Off-kilter introspection is married to the external process of being with another person, of wanting to be with them but not knowing how exactly to go about it.
This is especially complicated by Toledo’s own initial discomfort with his sexuality and even his confrontation with that whole human experience of inhabiting a body (exemplified in the booming surround sound drums of “Bodys”), excruciatingly amplified and made awkward by youth.
And this awkwardness that is concerned with being around the person of your affection (“Nervous Young Inhumans”) is never quite remedied, and not faced with rose-colored glasses – “Twin Fantasy” is predominantly mournful save for one track, “Cute Thing,” with blaring guitars and an anthemic chorus.
The second to last track, “Famous Prophets (Stars),” clocks in at 16 minutes, and is yet another maze of lyrics and shifting pieces.
Toledo has a lot to say, cramming diaristic writing and diatribes into song after song; this makes any attempt at a review seem particularly futile, because there is much to discuss. Luckily, there is already a wealth of discussion about it online.
Perhaps this feeling of wanting more but not knowing how to get it, of searching for something in someone else, encapsulates “Twin Fantasy.”
Toledo yearns for his eponymous “twin,” desiring someone for their resemblance to him (this takes on another layer of meaning when the implications of his same-gender relationship are considered). He thinks he registers an inherent lack in their absence, but he ultimately denotes it as “fantasy.”
Though “Twin Fantasy” might be thought of as sad, it takes a healthy spin on narratives about love seen over and over again. Looking for someone to “complete” you (to be your “twin” in life) is an exercise in fantasy, he claims.
To try and find someone to fill your own emptiness is to commit a glaring misstep, if we listen carefully to Toledo.