CAR SEAT HEADREST – Teens of Denial (Matador): You know frontman Will Toledo. He’s the guy at the kegger you know double-checked his outfit in the mirror twenty times before the party where he sits in the corner grumbling about how fickle stylishness is to any pretty girl who’ll listen. He’s also the kid who creamed his pants at age fourteen when he truly laid eyes on his first pair of legs. He’s the dude in your Poli Sci 101 class who namedrops Chomsky regardless of context like he’s an obscure intellectual, leans back in his chair with arms crossed and a smug smile. And most importantly he’s self-aware of all these things, the humiliating tribulations and the embarrassing self-congratulations. That’s why he’s more interesting than the douchebag in the apartment next to yours.
Toledo has released a slew of albums under the Car Seat Headrest pseudonym though only two with Matador. 2015’s Teens of Style was shorter, less heavy on the jams, and overly-saturated in distortion when it came to Toledo’s vocals—something that should always raise suspicion that perhaps the singer isn’t all that interested in revealing the words. But Teens of Denial is loud, fast, and packed with abrasive riffs that would make Stephen Malkmus proud. “1937 State Park” and “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” could easily have found themselves on a Pavement record if they lyrics weren’t so self-pitying. He could do better with more Malkmus-y paroxysms of phrase like “If I’m being honest with myself / I haven’t been honest with myself,” or “Drugs are better with friends are better with drugs.”
That self-pity is kind of the worst and best thing about Toledo. He’s a really smart, really young guy, simultaneously pretentious in his overly long compositions groaning about existential threats such as having sex with a girl who’s not as into it as you are, yet humble in what he’s willing to admit about himself, like being so shaken by a late-night encounter with the cops that he cries walking home. So despite any Nice Guy delusions he may still suffer from, he’s sharp enough to recognize the unintentional irony of thinking his low-grade shroom trip is fucking lame even though he keeps going with it. Toledo’s in that unfortunate position of being conscious of the vapidity of the self-destructive habits of others his age, regardless of knowing that most will abandon those hobbies for careers—which Toledo also thinks is sort of a tragedy. He’s the bird tweeting about his cage even though he secretly likes it.
These are pretty shallow sentiments overall—there’s nothing profound in saying you think something might be wrong when you and friends spend Thursday through Sunday getting wasted—but Toledo doesn’t feel them shallowly. So no, he hasn’t found a whole lot to say about that kind of lifestyle (because, and maybe he’s figured it out, there isn’t much to it), but he’s a sharp guy, and if he’s sharp enough now to make music this compelling and throw in enough clever if lowbrow observations about his generation, just wait til he graduates to having a profound thought. It oughta be good. A MINUS