In 2010, Virginia-based musician Will Toledo formed a solo project he first dubbed Nervous Young Men. A fitting title, since it’s hard enough to get started in the music industry without specializing in a genre as polarizing as indie music; you couldn’t blame him for being nervous. The talented multi-instrumentalist then, in the same year, released his first 5 projects on the pay-your-own-price music platform Bandcamp. He gained a sizeable fanbase after releasing his 2011 effort Twin Fantasy, and signed with Matador Records in 2015. After releasing his debut label compilation album Teens of Style (and gaining band members), the indie rock outfit is back with all new material on Teens of Denial, which houses songs that stretch rock (and pop) music in bold and varied directions.
“Fill in the Blank,” is a danceable indie cut reminscent of something The Strokes would have made in the early 2000s. However, behind the noise we find Toledo lamenting his woes. “I’ve got a right to be depressed/I’ve given every inch to fight it/I have seen too much of this world yes/And it hurts, it hurts…” he wails behind hard-hitting guitar riffs. The contrast in the production and lyrics work surprisingly well here, as is the case with the rest of the album.
The album is indie rock at heart, but has a smorgasbord of other styles of rock music embedded in it. On “Destroyed by Hippie Powers,” we’re greeted by an opening punk rock riff followed by minimal rock and even some cowbell, which is sure to bring back memories of your favorite Will Ferrell SNL skit. On “1937 State Park,” we get some psychedelic vibes that feel like we’ve been transported to the 1960s. The outro to “Just What I Needed/Not Just What I Needed” is a post-rock slugfest. The varied genres really showcase the band’s range as musicians. When the band decides to stick to the script however is when they really shine. “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” is a catchy little gem that is sure to get you moving, while “Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)” is perfect music for driving through your college campus.
Perhaps no other song sums up the ambitiousness of this record then the 11-and-a-half minute epic “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia,” which has Toledo comparing his life to a ship that’s sinking. “I won’t go down with this shit/I will put my hands up and surrender,” he softly sings. Toledo then voices his angst over conversational lyrics such as “How was I supposed to know how to ride a bike without hurting myself?” and “How the hell was I supposed to steer this ship?”, continuing the boat theme. He finally sums up all his frusturation on the chorus, simply declaring “I give up.” The song, much like the album itself, is an up and down affair. It starts off slow, then gradually builds up to the anthemic wailing of the last syllable of the bridge at around the 4 minute mark. It then slows down and does it all over again, but this time switching over to completely different instrumentation than previously heard on the song. It’s definitely a highlight of the album; Toledo flexing his musical muscles.
Lyrically, we find Toledo mired in his various shortcomings throughout the album, which isn’t completely uncommon for someone at the complicated age of 22. “I have become such a negative person,” he says on “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales. “It was all just an act/It was all so easily stripped away.” For someone barely out of college, he already seems ready to give up, even saying so on the previously mentioned “TBOTCC.” He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s been depressed in his life, nor the way he chooses to describe it. “In the back of a medicine cabinet/You can find your life story,” he professes on 2nd track “Vincent.” His woes arent exclusive to mental health, as he, just like seemingly everyone his age, has his fair share of girl issues. “You and me are connected now/We were in one photograph and we don’t even look happy,” he says on “1937 State Park.” He continues this theme on “Unforgiving Girl,” where he’s not sure if the girl he’s sleeping with is even interested in him. “This isn’t sex, I don’t think, it’s just extreme empathy/She’s not my ex, we never met, but do you still think of me?” However, with all these agonizing lyrics, Toledo sounds confident throughout; you can damn near dance to his imperfections.
Car Seat Headrest have come a long way from Bandcamp darlings to potential indie rock powerhouses. Their ability to keep the home-grown feel of garage rock and add a pop-tinged flair to it suits them well here, considering their former releases were not as accessible as this record. Throw in the positive reactions they’ve already garnered from publications such as Pitchfork and SPIN, and things are looking bright as they’re bound to gain new fans to their already big fanbase. Frankly, it’s a good time to be in Car Seat Headrest.