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Album Review: "Twin Fantasy", Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest has nearly everything you could want in a modern indie rock band. They rarely disappoint, with their emotionally cathartic lyrics and progressively stronger instrumentation every new release. I’ve certainly developed a fondness for the group over time; listening to their music tends to ease insecurity and manifest a sense of comfort into my bones. This is a common reaction for listeners of the group in their teenage and young adult years; Will Toledo has a way of making all of the uncertainty, naivety, and childlike emotions of a person making the transition into adulthood feel natural. It makes you realize that all of these things you deal with that you built up in your head for so long are things that nearly everyone has to address for themselves.

The group released a myriad of projects independently and made a name for themselves on bandcamp long before signing to Matador Records in 2015. After releasing Teens of Style and Teens of Denial, they rose to popularity in the indie scene. Twin Fantasy always seemed to be a fan favorite from their bandcamp ventures, but it’s worth noting that since it came from such an early point in Car Seat Headrest’s career, it tends to be a little sloppy and poorly recorded. Its production leaves me with mixed feelings; on one hand, its fuzzy, washed-out aesthetic fits the raw/intimate state of the lyrics. On the other, it can be difficult to appreciate elements of the instrumentation when they’re drowned out by a wall of sound. Understanding why artists consciously choose to go in a lo-fi direction and use poor recording techniques when they don’t have to has never been entirely clear to me, but if any album holds the ability to pull it off, it’s Twin Fantasy.

Which version of the record you prefer ultimately comes down to what you look for in music. Since the poor quality of the original tends to distract me from appreciating it for what it is, I tend to lean towards the 2018 version. It shows off Will’s progression as a vocalist, and the instrumentation and singing is more confident. Essential details become clearer with tasteful additions such as the feedback in between the verses of High to Death, the switch from guitar to synth lead in Nervous Young Inhumans, and the sharper, more vivid recording of Bodys.

The project’s ambition shows in long cuts full of tempo changes that sometimes clock in at up to 10-15 minutes; they pack in enough ideas for at least 3 songs and become more rewarding with each listen. Beach Life In-Death takes us on a journey through Will’s scattered mind; Famous Prophets (Stars) addresses the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with a relationship ending, and the reworking incorporates a new piano passage that carries the track’s weight effectively.

Lyrically, Twin Fantasy is an emotional trip. Its romantic undertones show Will’s complete and unadulterated love for someone from an innocent, inexperienced perspective; it also takes depression’s effect on someone’s thoughts/actions/everyday life into account. Sober to Death is about being madly in love with someone and sharing in their pain (“you’re the only one who understands me” type situation); Bodys manifests the feeling of uncertainty in growing up attending events that simultaneously make Will feel uncomfortable and empowered. Cute Thing is the most bluntly and unapologetically romantic track of the project, High to Death is the most depressive, bleak cuts of the project with strong ties to mental illness that takes Stop Smoking full circle with keep smoking, I love you.

It’s full of quotable one-liners, some of my favorites being I am almost completely soulless, I am incapable of being human, or we said we hated humans, we wanted to be human, or hold on to the ghost of my body, you know that good lives make bad stories on Sober to Death. There’s enough variety in its topics to appeal to what a wide range of people’s problems, but no matter what Will’s addressing, it’s deeply personal. It’s hard to come away from the project without a multitude of things to remember.

The reworking of this album makes it much easier to appreciate. Although at some points the raw, gritty quality of the original album could have been incorporated in some way (perhaps in an especially bleak track like High to Death), this version is clearer, more refined, and its pros outweigh its cons. Returning to the effort will be no problem for me, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in indie or dealing with uncertainty about their place in the world and the pressures of growing up not to let it slip by.


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