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‘Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)’ proves rock isn’t dead yet

Car Seat Headrest crafts one of the rawest rock albums heard in years

Claude Brun, staff reporter
Originally Published March 30, 2018

As the 21st century has progressed it has become increasingly difficult to find music that can be categorized as rock without blaspheming the genre’s deep history. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find. Bands like The Strokes, The War on Drugs and most recently Car Seat Headrest have proven that real rock isn’t dead quite yet.

Before Car Seat Headrest’s last album “Teens of Denial,” I would have been hesitant to include them on this list. Will Toledo, frontman of the band spent much of his twenties recording the band’s first 11 albums in the back seat of his car in a Target parking lot… and it shows. While the approach was novel, the extremely lo-fi production (a result of recording through an old laptop’s built in mic) placed Car Seat Headrest’s sound more in line with bedroom pop. While there’s a place for bedroom pop, the sometimes genius melodies Toledo came up with clearly deserved clearer production.

Toledo seemingly realized this with his first major label release “Teens of Denial,” which was overflowing with catchy melodies and epic choruses. Shifting from track recording everything by himself in the back seat of his car to recruiting a full time band with professional studio recording, Toledo rebirthed Car Seat Headrest as one of the most notable names in indie music.

After releasing “Teens of Denial,” Toledo and his newly formed band looked backwards and forward at the same time, deciding to give his final Target parking lot album the studio treatment.

“Twin Fantasy,” self-released on bandcamp in 2011, was the magnum opus of Car Seat Headrest’s early days; the album that put Toledo on the map and resulted in his signing to Matador Records. Here, it was most evident how much the lo-fi production seemingly hindered the music Toledo was writing. While the emotional writing and instrumentation clearly marked it as a great album, it was clear that it would benefit from the studio treatment. Thus comes the Matador records release of “Twin Fantasy” 2.0, given with the sub-title “Face to Face,” alongside the original gaining the subtitle of “Mirror to Mirror.” What this means is up to the listener, as are many other minor differences between the two albums.

Far from a small difference however, is the effect the recording gives to the music. While “Mirror to Mirror” seemed more focused on creating a vibe through its lo-fi production, “Face to Face” sounds much clearer and more direct, allowing the listener to more clearly appreciate the brilliant melodies and guitar lines “Twin Fantasy” has to offer. Because of this, it resides much more comfortably in the genre of rock.

Because it was written much earlier in Toledo’s career, “Twin Fantasy” feels less thematically mature than “Teens of Denial,” but in a fitting way. It tells a more personal story; a vignette of Toledo at an earlier point in his life, before he gained the experience and point of view needed to tackle the more immense themes of “Teens of Denial.” Fueled by the angst and short sightedness brought by his emotional teen years, the songwriting leaves me missing the grandeur of the last album, but that isn’t enough to ruin the deeply personal and emotional story Toledo told on “Twin Fantasy” years ago, and is telling again today.

“Twin Fantasy” and “Teens of Denial” also tell a story about Toledo as he matures. In “Twin Fantasy” he struggles with the confusion, angst and hopefulness that comes with one’s teenage years. In “Teens of Denial” he reflects on his past, present and future from a more experienced perspective; one that views itself in the grander scheme of things, built by years of drug use, debauchery and heartbreak. “Twin Fantasy” seems much more meaningful when you view it as the start of that story. It’s a story inherently about the now; a peak into Toledo’s mind in 2011.

Coming to this realization, the emotional rawness Toledo exposes here comes into focus. The lack of perspective is part of what makes the songwriting so subjective, it pulls you in, leaving you empathizing with Toledo—relating to him in his teenage struggles, fleeting though they may be.

Twin Fantasy isn’t a continuation of the emotional struggle in “Teens of Denial,” but rather a prequel to it—giving us deeper insight into the musician behind it, thus it should be listened to first.

Toledo’s vocals often go from a lazily delivered but still deep and resonant near spoken word verse to an explosive chorus filled with sorrow drenched moans in just a few measures, and the transition is always done perfectly. He even explains this on the epic seven minute track, “Bodys” in a fourth-wall-breaking spoken word moment.

Some choruses are so catchy and singable that you’ll wish that you were in the front row of a concert, waving your lighter in the air every time you hear them. Don’t be surprised if many melodies from Twin Fantasy linger in your mind for days.

In addition to his vocal experimentation, Toledo also experiments instrumentally, such as the more heavily layered guitar and the constant rhythm changing during the closing moments of album highlight “Sober to Death,” followed by “High to Death,” which includes a psychedelic instrumental that perfectly captures the feeling described in the song’s title.

Despite its studio treatment, “Face to Face” doesn’t fully leave behind the lo-fi vibe. It’s still present in most of the 14 minute epic “Beach Life-In-Death” alongside many other moments in the album. “Twin Fantasy” hasn’t fully lost its grit, and that’s a good thing, because it helps us get into the mindset of the character. This grit feels even more deserved when you consider that the album was written by Toledo on his own, as a depressed young adult before he had amassed any major clout in the music scene. Car Seat Headrest manages to strike the perfect balance between the studio sparkle and Target parking lot grit.

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‘Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)’ proves rock isn’t dead yet