Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Style
Will Toledo has recorded 11 albums in the last five years, self-releasing them on Bandcamp and racking up an impressive 25,000 downloads. Car Seat Headrest, as he calls his project, is an ongoing experiment in lo-fi composition. Toledo builds heady, psych-rock micro-symphonies and sings about humanity’s heaviest subjects: sex, death, art, identity, god, Michael Stipe. Last year Toledo graduated from college in Virginia, relocated to Seattle (actually Kirkland) and, at the behest of Matador Records, rerecorded the 11 songs found on Teens of Style, his label debut. Another album of reworked material is coming early next year.
In six months every music fan in Seattle will know the name Car Seat Headrest. For now, consider yourself an early adopter. Teens of Style is Toledo’s psych-rock palimpsest, a summation of evolving musical genius. It’s also a complete document in its own right. Even with the springboard provided by Matador’s budget, the album sounds like a bedroom project (the band name is a reference to Toledo’s early vocal recordings, made while shut inside his parents’ car), charged with a young auteur’s urgency. These are songs to obsess over, the lyrics rich and referential, the production dense and detailed and surprising.
Toledo previously played every instrument in Car Seat’s arsenal; here his guitars and keyboards are augmented by a bassist and drummer and occasional horns. The trumpet on “Times to Die,” the album’s first single, lofts through the song’s fuzzy shuffle, as Toledo opens the song with social media-made anxiety, then pivots toward self-realization: “All of my friends are getting married/All of my friends are right with God/All of my friends are making money/But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves.” The song unfolds in movements, each one elevating the overall drama, seven minutes of sanguine struggle toward revelation.
More songs push past the six-minute mark; none languishes or indulges. But Toledo is adept at brevity, too. The album-opening trifecta of “Sunburned Shirts,” “The Drum” and “Something Soon” is relatively punchy at four minutes apiece, though in structure, sonics and lyrics each is packed with unconventional ideas. “The Drum” begins with more winding guitar and full-throttle drums as Toledo raps a coming-of-age color commentary: “This is our lifetime and I am his creator/A young man slowly pulled apart by separate poles of gravity.”
Dangerously introspective stuff, but even in his Beck-ish slacker drawl Toledo bursts with life-loving ardor. He name-checks Raymond Carver, curses the sunshine and, on “Oh! Starvation,” the most Pet Sounds-sounding tune on the album, sings, “I’m not happy unless I’m unhappy.” This guy belongs in Seattle. That said, ambition of this caliber doesn’t sit still for long.