Before 2016’s brilliant Teens of Denial cemented his status as one of contemporary music’s most fascinating figures, Will Toledo spent years recording songs on his personal computer, uploading new records on Bandcamp under his Car Seat Headrest moniker at a frequency matched only by Lil B. For his 11th record, the 25-year old decided to return to his lo-fi roots and rework his first great release with the major label production value it deserves.
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) is a re-recording of Toledo’s cult classic Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror) (2011). The album is loosely conceptual, focusing on the singer/songwriter’s borderline-obsessive relationship cycle with an unnamed young man. It is about first love, first break-up, coming out, depression, and the potentially fatal consequences of smoking. The themes are heavy, but offset this by using the same off-kilter humour that has made Toledo one of the great lyricists of the genre. From the lyrics on “Beach Life-in-Death:” “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/I never came out to my friends,” to when he sings “I got so fucking romantic/I apologize,” on “Cute Thing” or “Stop smoking/We love you/And we don’t want you to die,” on “Stop Smoking,” Toledo communicates bleak truths under blunt verses.
If (Mirror to Mirror)’s genius was buried under the album’s lo-fi production, (Face to Face)’s is unmistakable. Now signed with Matador and supported by a band, Toledo takes full advantage of the larger budget and studio time. Vocal and guitar harmonies are omnipresent, the sound is light-years cleaner, and the dance-y drum patterns are startlingly original on a rock album.
Lyrics have been switched here and there, and the climatic “Famous Prophets (Stars)” now culminates in six minutes of gorgeous piano melodies and vocal collage. Otherwise, the record is quite faithful to the original. This slight conservatism sometimes bogs it down: “Nervous Young Inhuman’s” spoken word outro has little to no replay value, and the first 10 minutes of “Famous Prophets (Stars)” drag on. Yet, in revisiting their back-catalog, Car Seat Headrest confirms their status as indie-rock’s next big thing and hints at their bright future.