Review: Car Seat Headrest, “Teens of Denial” (2016)

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Three-piece indie band that reconsiders the limits of the indie-rock genre.

The context of some bands impressive you more than the band and the songs themselves, but thankfully this is a mix of both. Car Seat Headrest is the creation of Will Toledo, a 23-year-old guy that started recording songs in his bedroom. He would complete the vocal lines in the backseat of his car as he didn’t want to be heard by his parents, hence the name ‘Car Seat Headrest’. 10 albums later, and with a band behind him, Car Seat Headrest emerges with their first album on a major label, Teens in Denial.

The opening track ‘Fill in the Blank’ channels early Kings of Leon and showcases the raw, garage-style recording of the band. I wasn’t overly taken by this first song as it is a good indie rock song but nothing particular special. But then there’s ‘Vincent’: an epic that clocks in at close to 8 minutes – an unusual choice as a second song on an indie album. It’s a song that slowly builds with a looped reverse-delay pedal. When it gets going with its groove, it really goes for it and moves into prog territory – quite unusual for an indie band. The song has an interesting blend of the mid-70’s The Who, with elements of The Strokes and La Dispute thrown in for good measure (and added trumpet, that features in many other songs here and there).

The following songs ‘Destroyed By Hippie Powers’, ‘Drugs With Friends’ channels aspects of Nirvana and Everclear. The song ‘Not What I Needed’ sounds like The Cars meeting The Strokes. ‘Not What I Needed’ goes through two choruses before being suddenly interrupted with a looped guitar and a fuzzed-out voiceover that moves into Explosions in the Sky post-rock territory. My personal favourite song ‘1937 State Park’ is also quite an Everclear-esque song which could easily be a hit song in the mainstream. The song has a great riff with a delicious organ solo that feels like it comes out of nowhere.

The album is not predicatable at all.

Unusually long songs ‘Cosmic Hero’ (8:32) and ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’ (11:31) experiment with organs and trumpets and various changes in tempo and dynamic. Particularly ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’ that begins fairly mellow, becoming more melancholic with a spoken-word section, and then progresses into turn an all-out rocker. It’s epic stuff for an indie band.

I’m quite perplexed that a band (or songwriter) could be 10 albums into their catalogue and generate something this strong. I haven’t dipped my toe in too far with the back catalogue of Car Seat Headrest, but from what I’ve heard so far the band is unusually experimental for an indie band. Will Toledo has a seriously blessed creative mind and it is crazy to think he’s only 23 and writing these sorts of songs.

Overall Teens in Denial feels like a big step forward for indie rock – a natural progression of the genre. Car Seat Headrest wears the influences on their sleeve – Television, The Strokes, The Beach Boys, Nirvana, The Cars, Everclear – and you can hear it all there but expanded upon and taken in fresh new directions. The raw recording too, a nice touch – I can’t wait to hear more.

 

I highly recommend this album.

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