(photo by Anna Webber)
On May 20, Matador will be releasing the new Car Seat Headrest 2XLP/CD/digital album, ‘Teens Of Denial’. Though it’s the 13th album to date for Will Toledo, it’s the first CSH album to be recorded in a pro-style recording environment with a full band and acclaimed producer-person (specifically, Steve Fisk). Following the previously leaked “Vincent”, the album’s second single, “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” is available today. As Will explains, the song is about “post-party melancholia. Wishing to either be a better person or care less about the whole deal. Going home alone, in poor condition. The ‘killer whales’ bit is inspired by Blackfish, which is a depressing film.”
“You have no right to be depressed
You haven’t tried hard enough to like it”
There are two kinds of great lyrics. The first is the banger/anthem catch phrase: “Normal life is borin’ / but superstardom is close to post-mortem.” The second is more complex (and more rarely found): “Like a bird on a wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried in my way to be free” — with ideas, themes, and personae unfolding over the course of songs, contradicting each other, confronting the listeners’ preconceptions, like Pete Townshend, Morrissey, or Kendrick Lamar.
Will Toledo, the singer/songwriter/visionary of Car Seat Headrest, is adept at both, having developed them over the course of his eleven college-recorded Bandcamp albums and his retrospective collection last fall, Teens of Style.
“I’m so sick of / (Fill in the blank)” or “It’s more than you bargained for / But it’s a little less than what you paid for” are more than smart, edgy slogans. Over the course of Teens of Denial’s 11 songs, Will narrates a journey with his mysterious companion/alter-ego Joe that addresses big themes (personal responsibility, existential despair, the nature of identity, the Bible, heaven) and small ones (Air Jordans, cops, whether to have one more beer, why he lost his backpack).
“Fill in The Blank,” the mission statement of the album, kicks things off — it’s a fist-pumping anthem about feeling lousy in an ill-defined way, the fear of settling into a routine of futility, and not wanting to deal with it. Although it’s oddly joyful sounding, Toledo considers it the introduction to his angriest record yet. In that vein, “Vincent,” “Hippie Powers,” and “Connect The Dots” are about both fighting to hold your place in the crowd and to hold your drink, as well as DIY college house shows, and having no one to dance with, respectively. Initially similar, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” veers off in surprising directions, each piece flush with catchy, irony-free hooks.
At the heart of the album sits the 11:32 “Ballad of the Costa Concordia,” which has more musical ideas than most whole albums (and at that length, it uses them all). Horns, keyboards, and elegant instrumental interludes set off art-garage moments; vivid vocal harmonies follow punk frenzy. The selfish captain of the capsized cruise liner in the Mediterranean in 2013 becomes a metaphor for struggles of the individual in society, as experienced by one hungover young man on the verge of adulthood.
Teens of Denial refracts Toledo’s particular, personal story of one difficult year through cultural touchstones such as the biography of Frank Sinatra, the evolution of the Me Generation as seen in Mad Men and elsewhere, plus elements of Eastern and Western theology. The whole thing flaunts a kind of conceptual, lyrical, and musical ambition that has been missing from far too much 21st-century music.
“I won’t go down with this shit
I will put my hands up and surrender
There will be no more flags above my door
I have lost, and always will be”
There are two kinds of great lyricists. The first kind is one you find in books, canonized by time and a lifetime of expression. The second has it all in front of him. Meet Will Toledo. Or at least one version of him. – Geoffrey Weiss
1. Fill In The Blank
3. Destroyed By Hippie Powers
4. (Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)
5. Just What I Needed/Not Just What I Needed
6. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
7. 1937 State Park
8. Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)
9. Cosmic Hero
10. The Ballad of Costa Concordia
11. Connect The Dots (The Saga Of Frank Sinatra)
12, Joe Goes To School
Car Seat Headrest is:
Will Toledo – vocals, guitar, songwriting
Andrew Katz – drums, backing vocals
Ethan Ives – bass (on Teens of Denial), guitar (live), backing vocals
Seth Dalby – bass (live)
Produced by Steve Fisk at his studio in Seattle, July-September 2015.
Car Seat Headrest on tour :
Friday, March 25 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland OR
Saturday, March 26 – Neptune Theatre, Seattle WA
Sunday, March 27 – The Cobalt, Vancouver BC
Wednesday, March 30 – The Holland Project, Reno NV
Thursday, March 31 – Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, CA
Friday, April 1 – Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles CA
Sunday, April 3 – The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz CA
Monday, May 23 – Black Cat, Washington DC
Monday, May 30 – L’Espace B, Paris
Tuesday, May 31 – Le Sonic, Lyon
Friday, June 10 – Paraque de Cidade, Porto, PT
Wednesday, June 8 – Le Saint des Seins, Toulouse
Thursday, June 9 – Rock School Barbey, Bordeaux