Album Review: Car Seat Headrest—“Teens Of Style”

By Harry Myles

Fatigued, melancholy, and cynical. These are only a handful of words that describe Will Toledo’s latest record under the moniker of Car Seat Headrest. His first release with Matador Records, Teens of Style is a collection of revived tracks from the past four years. Re-recorded without compromising its lo-fi, distorted sound, the album is a reflection of a maturing artist (active since 2010) who seems conflicted by his current success and past desires. Over 11 tracks, Teens of Style explores the troubles of the industry, Toledo’s own personal musical journey, and even hints upon the failures of our current generation. Teens of Style is a wonderful autobiographical album with a classic psychedelic twist, combining engaging beats with calming synths and, at times, a truly tragic story.

Album art for Teens of Style

Album art for Teens of Style

Those familiar with Toledo’s work will understand the hazy nature of his style, in which powerful guitars and beating drums often drown out the sound of his fuzzy voice. Teens of Style maintains this signature sound, utilizing the lo-fi production to enhance the nature of each track and further establish the disorienting feeling ingrained within several songs. The album seems to follow the arc of Toledo’s struggling career, beginning with “Sunburned Shirts”, a song built from the idea that the artist has not “looked at the sun for so long” and “forgotten how much it hurt”. Taken alone, “Sunburned Shirts” seems to reflect the musician’s inability to pause for a moment and enjoy simpler, more natural pleasures, like basking in the daylight sun and feeling its warmth on their skin. However, seven tracks later, a similar analogy appears on what may be my personal favourite of the album, “Maud Gone”. Leaving the day behind, Toledo now stands beneath a full moon every night, but hasn’t “been looking at the sky” as he retells a story of lost love. The nature of “Maud Gone” is strikingly dissimilar to its companion piece, as Car Seat slows the pace and incorporates subtle keyboard reminiscent of an 80’s jam. It seems that now, after having traveled through his compilation, Toledo is beginning to calm down and enjoy the intricacies of life, a luxury his expanding career has not allowed until this point.

If “Sunburned Shirts” and “Maud Gone” reflect a growing realization of his true desire for a calmer life, the middle tracks such as “The Drum”, “Something Soon”, and “Times to Die” instill upon the listener the overwhelming hardship of Toledo’s predicament. In “The Drum” he awakes from a “hangover dream” with “a real black eye this time”, indebted and drunk. “Something Soon” then reinforces this isolation as he desperately says he “needs somethin’ soon”, the mounting pressure feeling like “heavy boots on my throat”, but his “fingers are froze” and he can’t seem to break free. He then turns upon himself in “Times to Die”, finally understanding “art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves.” This harsh reality reveals the difficulties of Toledo’s beginnings; comparing the feeling to entering a temple and being fed to the devil, he reflects upon the days when he was driven by a desire to climb the charts and “make a deal”. It seems, Car Seat is almost bitter sweet with his success at Matador; as the final track, “Oh! Starving” reveals that “he used to enjoy losing money” and now all he does is win, making it “far too easy to be satisfied with things.” His second last lyric reads “Goodbye, all you airline miles”, which seems to neatly conclude the expansive album.

In the end, Will Toledo has enjoyed his career but, at times, he just wants to slow it all down and return to more carefree days, when he did not feel like he had boots against his throat. In this sense, he touches upon a common struggle for both musicians and non-musicians alike; the need to find our place in this world and understand how to be happy. As a result, Teens of Style is an incredible, immersive addition to Car Seat Headrest’s discography and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us. (Matador)

Listen: “Something Soon”

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