The Thin Air

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Will Toledo sings “I’m so sick of: fill in the blank” on album opener ‘Fill in the Blank’ and that line sums up much of the content on Car Seat Headrest’s first full-band studio release. That line also could sum up the last week for Toledo too as he’s been encumbered by a copyright issue involving a sample of The Cars’ single ‘Just What I Needed’. In what could easily have encumbered a songwriter used to complete creative control and in his own words “working on an album right up to its drop date”. Toledo maintains his “everything is done on the fly” mantra. Each take sounds spontaneous and almost jammed out whilst sounding at his most well-rounded and fleshed out. The main difference is a cleaner sound that moves away from the lo-fi sound of earlier CSR releases without moving away from what brought Toledo to where he is. The production on earlier CSR releases melded everything into a sort of mumble as though Toledo himself was uncertain of what he was saying. On Teens of Denial everything sounds harder and more immediate whilst maintaining its jagged edges.

There are elements of Stephen Malkmus in the conversational vocals on tracks like ‘(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)’. This style suits the aesthetic of Toledo’s work where everything is up for grabs and it’s just about stumbling your way through.

‘Cosmic Hero’ stands out with its opening of horns indicating that something important is about to be said until Toledo undercuts the expectation when he softly sings “If you ever really want to make it last you could commit yourself completely”. It is unclear who he is addressing but as the song progresses, the horns return and the hook of “It’ll be alright” set against the backing scream of “Fuck you!” indicates that something important has been reached and that something is that there are no easy answers.

‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’ is Toledo’s real highlight on Teens of Denial. Coming in at over 11 minutes and placing the experiences of the sunken Costa Concordia against Toledo’s own is an interesting choice. “I’m going to bed now/I’ve sunk into my sorrows/and it’ll take $300million to get me up tomorrow” is a wonderful line that encapsulates the ennui of what it is like to be in your twenties right now but done from the perspective of the sinking ship. The perspective switches from Toledo’s narrator to the Costa Concordia to the ship’s captain at various points in the song. This is especially prevalent in Toledo’s repeated questions of “How was I supposed to know…” when it switches from Toledo’s forgotten backpack to the captain’s poor steering of the ship. This throws the listener into each world to justify the metaphor of a sunken luxury cruise ship with that of a Western person in their twenties. The only shame is that this song isn’t the album closer as it feels like the perfect bookend to everything that comes before it.

The only real shame of this record is that no one will get to hear the original ‘Just What I Needed/Not Just What I Needed’. But a bit of consistency goes a long way and Toledo appears to have found some with a steady band and no longer recording vocals from the front-seat of his car or up to the last minute. Although none of this consistency brings the answers to Toledo who still questions everything. But maybe that’s the point. James Trotter