Review: Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo has dusted off and sanded down his remarkable meditation on depression, sexual exploration, and self-doubt for a broader audience.
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Car Seat Headrest seemed brand new in 2016. Given the suddenness of their ascent from cult band to indie staple over 18 months, the fact that frontman Will Toldeo had actually been plying his craft across ten albums eluded much of their new fanbase. Car Seat Headrest’s back catalog is full of flashes of potential, interesting experiments, mental anguish and musical tinkering. Not all of it is good, but all of it is interesting — especially in hindsight.

Some of it is good enough to take another crack at with a bigger budget and a full band. Twin Fantasy is one such album. “It was never a finished work,” said Toledo. Perhaps he was right. As the name Car Seat Headrest may imply, Toledo recorded many of his albums in the backseat of his car. On the re-recording of his highly autobiographical album, Will Toledo has dusted off and sanded down his meditation on depression, sexual exploration, and self-doubt for a broader audience.

On the 2018 remake (full title: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)), Toledo maintains his vulnerability but hides behind layers of noise and production value. As Toledo confesses on the album’s lead single, “Nervous Young Inhumans”, Twin Fantasy is intended for a single recipient: an ex. The spirit and delivery evoke Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You and Sparklehorse’s Viva. Twin Fantasy feels more like personal catharsis through songwriting than something to share.

This sentiment is exemplified on the ambitious 13-minute behemoth “Beach Life-in-Death” where Toledo reflects on his struggle to come out to his friends: “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/I never came out to my friends/We were all on Skype/And I laughed and changed the subject.” It’s a key piece of character development that easily gets lost in the musical odyssey.

Twin Fantasy has an urgency and novelty to it, though some songs remain the same. “My Boy” and “Stop Smoking”, for example, remain nearly indistinguishable from their original recordings. Other tracks have undergone wholesale changes, and for the most part, they’re improvements. But for his proficiency with a guitar, Toledo still occasionally struggles with tone. On the intro to “Bodys”, it sounds like he’s still working with Garageband. But by the time he’s bellowing “Don't you realize our bodies could fall apart any second?” you’ll be too immersed by the song’s heavily layered crescendo to be troubled by the bumbling introduction.

But if Toledo’s production sensibilities are still a work in progress, his sense of humor and wit continue to shine through. “We were wrecks before we crashed into each other,” he sings on the exquisite “Sober to Death”. Similarly, sarcastic quips cloaked by Toledo’s languid voice emerge throughout the album, and subsequent listens are rewarding.

On the whopping 16-minute “Famous Prophets (Stars),” Toledo reaches new heights. This re-imagined version is the album’s provocative emotional apex (complete with bible verse and trumpets). Although Toledo seems more optimistic and centered than he once was, it is evident that this former relationship lingers in the back of his mind. Toledo repeatedly whispers “The ocean washed over your grave/ The ocean washed open your grave,” observing that the shadow of this relationship still follows him around. No matter how deep you may bury your feelings, they can still resurface.

Having lived with and listened to the original Twin Fantasy for several years, there is the temptation to compare it with the new album. Whether that is fair is up to the individual listener. Companion piece or full-on replacement, it matters not. Do yourself a favor and listen to the album you should have listened to seven years ago. A MINUS