Car Seat Headrest is everything that comes to mind when you think lo-fi indie rock. Will Toledo, the mastermind behind what was originally a one-man-band, created a cult following through Bandcamp before ever getting signed. He already had 10 self-made albums under his belt before an intern at Matador Records recommended him to label founder, Chris Lombardi. Once Matador showed some serious interest, Toledo compiled his band from Craigslist and proceeded to create one banger after another on what he claims to be his “debut album,” Teens of Denial. The album manages to set itself apart from its indie rock peers with a range of rhythmic and lyrical talent that is deeply personal and emotionally relevant.
The songs themselves range from the hard rock edge of “Fill in the Blank” to the retrospective narrative of “(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem].” Each song is a personal scrapbook of Toledo’s experience.
“Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” cries, “Everyone learns to live with their sins/ But your girl wears yours like a brand new skin/So take it all off and let me back in.” There’s something wonderfully classic about a boy writing a song that reads like an open letter to a love interest. Toledo states in the song, “this isn't sex, I don't think, it's just extreme empathy/ She's not my ex, we never met, but do you still think of me?” Kitschy, relatable, and bitterly sweet.
“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a standout track for sure. Every line takes the listener somewhere—it is a true travelling song. It sounds like late-night buses, long trains, moving landscapes, and shifting lights. “It doesn’t have to be like this” is Toledo’s standout refrain, making the listener wonder about where they’re going.
In an interview with Spin, Toledo said, “I’ve always liked quoting from other people. When you write something that feels like another song that you’re thinking about, it almost seems better just to go and quote it directly. Sometimes it allows it to hit the listener in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise.”
Toledo draws explicitly from his influences and, in doing so, extends the storytelling of the album. The “Ballad of the Costa Concordia” ends on the edge of Dido’s “White Flag,” closing a song on a debut album with sentimental familiarity. Toledo’s lyrics are at the forefront, but, by layering these kinds of homages throughout the album, he invokes multiple perspectives within individual songs.
The whole album experiments with emphasis, as vocals lilt beneath the roar of an electric guitar or echo front-and-centre to break the silence. Variation in melody and rhythm keeps the listener entertained. Teens of Denial redefines indie rock to its core with less synthetically melodious pop schematics and more creativity. Car Seat Headrest is a unique band, in that it is emerging into the professional music scene with an established following. Though Toledo’s previous albums are definitely worth checking out, this official debut is easily his best work yet.
Standout track: Drunk Driver/ Killer Whales
Standout lyrics: “We’re not a proud race/It’s not a race at all/We’re just trying/I’m only trying to get home.”