Car Seat Headrest has released 12 albums on Bandcamp. (Photo courtesy of Matador Records)
Will Toledo, known for his musical project Car Seat Headrest, started producing and releasing albums on the music hosting website Bandcamp while he was in high school a decade ago. After a few albums of odd, less-than-fully-developed songs, he recorded a cohesive, conceptual album about his own teenage relationships in 2011. The album, “Twin Fantasy,” has amassed a large cult following since its original release. Now Car Seat Headrest has a recording contract with Matador Records, and Toledo has decided to use his new funding and recording capabilities to try improving his magnum opus.
What is quite atypical with this new album is that it is not new. Fans of the band have known these songs for years, the lyrics and crescendos etched into their being for some. The trouble with reworking an album that has already been released is that those who have come to love the original may be off put to changes. The newest version is 10 minutes longer than the original while having the same track list, signifying that a lot more has been added and changed. This can be evidently seen in the track “Famous Prophets,” which has an extra six minutes tacked on.
Toledo does not just do this out of spectacle and grandeur, though. Many of the words have been altered and entire portions of sections have been removed or extended. “Beach Life-in-Death” and “Famous Prophets” both have altered and completely new sections with different elements that it is hard to feel the same way about them as to the originals. This is especially true for the somewhat polished sound it now has that was not there before.
“Twin Fantasy” is an album that rose from some kid playing indie-rock all on his own into his laptop microphone, so there is a prominent history of amateur, low-fidelity recording. In the original, parts of songs would just omit typical instruments, most notably drums, because Toledo did not have easy access to them. The new album has been enhanced with them added with additional people playing them, giving a more fleshed out sound. This difference can be heard notably in the songs “Bodys” and “Nervous Young Inhumans.”
The song “Bodys” starts with an infectious guitar line of repetitious singular notes plucked quickly in succession to an easily danceable rhythm, and thumping alteration between closed high hats and snare drums every eighth-note suggest that as well. But unlike the latest version, the original did not have the slight alterations at the end of the long guitar riff that help characterize each line on its own, and with a seasoned drummer on the stool, the drumming has been improved to a pleasurable degree.
For the previous version of “Nervous Young Inhumans,” it has an overdriven guitar pounding away its power chords, accompanied by drumming that is more advanced than that of “Bodys,” but it is not too compelling overall. However, 2018’s rendition added a lot of atmosphere that was lacking in the original. The layered guitars add a sparkle to the sound that gets embellished by the ethereal crooning of voices in the background, all the while causing a responsive head nodding in rhythm to be more enticing.
The trouble in these new songs, and throughout the album as a whole, is that the singing is somewhat tempered compared to the original, which is hard not to expect considering how Toledo wrote these songs out of raw emotion seven years ago, and that those emotions may have changed. They almost certainly have when looking at portions of the lyrics that were chosen for removal; he no longer sings the verse about his corrupted youth in “Beach Life-in-Death,” for example. This portion of the song really caused one to be taken aback due to the powerful statements made, the stripped-down instrumentals and the guttural vocal delivery all in tandem. A few moments like this persist elsewhere on the album, but it is hard to recognize without the context of the old album.
If one is looking for a robust album of great songs to take them on the auditory equivalent to a cinematic journey, listen to the 2018 album of “Twin Fantasy.” By most attributes, it truly is the better album. But the 2011 album should also be heard just for the ability to find the emotive highlights that the new one lacks.
Final grade: A-