Reviews: Car Seat Headrest, Hotelier, Whitney

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Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial

by Grant Rindner

Car Seat Headrest’s newest record is what all good indie rock should aspire to be. It’s intelligent, self-aware, a touch neurotic, and rough enough around the edges to feel completely authentic. Teens of Denial is a long record, but one that has so much personality and insight that you’ll wish there were another dozen tracks tacked on.

“(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem]” is a perfect deconstruction of drug trip profundity with frontman Will Toledo describing a lackluster experience that left him feeling like absolute garbage in vivid detail. He’s a first-rate lyricist, on par with flag-bearers like Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus or Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage.

Another highlight is “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, a song that connects the feeling of post-party melancholy to the captivity of killer whales. It’s a bizarre link, but one that Toledo makes seem completely natural. The guitar on “Drunk Drivers” is also stellar, beginning with muted, restrained strumming before breaking out into full on garage power chords.

It’s hard to find a single wasted moment on Teens of Denial; even the nearly 12 minute “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” goes through enough movement shifts that it never drags. This is an album that belongs in a 2016 time capsule, and one that any indie bard hopeful should be required to hear. A MINUS

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The Hotelier, Goodness

by Luke Fowler

First of all, let’s get that cover out of the way: I think it’s touching and starkly human, and while you might not agree with that assessment, calling it “gross” means that you need to scour your own library for any traces of nudity. No more Strokes or Nirvana or Cars for you. They’re just bodies, people. Odds are you’ll look like that one day. Get over yourselves.

Now that we’ve covered the Big Talking Point of the record, the music here’s a solid, mostly by-the-numbers blend of emo and indie rock sensibilities. I realize that I’ve just described most of the mainstream emo of the past decade, but this album was obviously tailored for a specific type of listener, and the music reflects that at every turn. You’ve got the short interludes (all named after sets of coordinates in New England) that recall The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s series of “blank” tracks; these range from spoken word to lo-fi demos, encompassing varying degrees of poignancy. You’ve also got little gimmicky flourishes like the drawn-out drum outro of the choice cut “Goodness Pt. 2” (reprised on “End of Reel”) and the intentional clipping that closes “You In This Light”. Unnecessary? Of course. Deal-breaking? Not at all. This record is well-written and has a strong emotional core, and while Goodness doesn’t match the raw feeling or sincerity of Home, Like Noplace Is There, it’s well worth the time of any self-respecting emo junkie. B

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Whitney, Light Upon the Lake

by Marshall Gu

The album starts like this: a lonesome reverb-heavy keyboard line soon undercut by happier, heavier horns. Then, silence. Then, this peculiar, queer, sadness-inflected voice by way of Neil Young, acoustic guitar strums and all, comes in with these lines: “I left drinking on the city train / To spend some time on the road.” The horns come back in, softer and subtler than before as Julien Ehrlich sings “I’m just walking in a haze.” Let me tell you: a more formal, less peculiar singer wouldn’t have been able to sell that line the way Julien Ehrlich does. And true to the mercurial intro, the band introduces nudging bongos, crystal-clear guitar lines, shakers and strings afterwards. I can foresee many a drunken night wandering home being soundtracked by this song, because Whitney knows what you and I am going through—because they’ve gone/are going through the same thing too.

The rest of this album is a letdown. I didn’t think 2011 was a year that was worth evoking nostalgia for, given it was only five years ago. And it’s just not that Whitney’s two members come from Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (both of whom broke through that year), but 2011 seemed to be the last year in recent memory where indie rock was at its plateau: the Antlers, Washed Out, the War on Drugs, the folk-turned PJ Harvey, someone no one ever heard of named Bonny Bear won a Grammy or something, etc. And, in addition to nostalgia, they also use the easy weapons of doing that juxtaposition thing of pairing cheery music with sad lyrics and vocals and putting the other single (a nice climbing keyboard line in that one) wisely as what would be the opener of the second side if this were the vinyl age; spacing out the good stuff instead of front-loading the record. The other songs aren’t bad, but their pleasures are pleasant at best: the jangle pop guitar of “On My Own” and closer “Follow” with one of the album's best vocal hooks; the riding-towards-the-sunset vibe of the last minute of “Golden Days,” set to be next single.

But hey, for almost 4 minutes, this band brought back memories of wearing cardigans, of sipping cold beers on hot days, of self-conscious identity crises, of trying to figure out if the word ‘hipster’ was an insult or nothing at all, of standing beside Eva and Julia while watching Girls set up flowers on their microphones. B