While Will Toledo had toiled on bandcamp under the name Car Seat Headrest for almost a half-decade gradually gaining production values and band members, it was last year’s very good album Teens of Style that put the band on most people’s radar. (Including me).
Teens of Style was something of a greatest hits record of Car Seat Headrest material from 2010-12, and it’s success ensured the next release from Toledo and company would have an actual budget and an anticipatory audience.
It’s follow-up album, Teens of Denial does not disappoint, but it does surprise.
The Julian Casablancas-esque vocals and early Dylan Baldi project garage rock vibe are intact, but there are also Frank Black howls, sloppy guitar-God jams reminiscent of (pick your ’90s shoegaze rocker of choice for a point of reference), lyrical allusions to Pavement and even a re-working of the most famous song by The Cars.
The insistent, building guitar noise on “Vincent” also gives me a serious Television vibe, but without the interplay of another guitar.
There’s also a variety to the instrumentation to match the varied influence. There’s xylophone, horns, moments of call and response, unexpected studio chatter and even some neat swirling production effects that are super enjoyable in headphones.
This isn’t the usual case of a lo-fi band hitting the studio, losing their reverb and calling it growth. The invested resources really seem to have lead to some shifts, changes and worthwhile experimentation without losing a grounded, DIY sensibility.
Pleasant production surprises aside, Teens of Denial is also an unexpectedly thematically heavy album. There’s examinations of mortality, morality and what it means to define yourself by interpersonal relationships. Plus, self-degrading tales of drug trips and drunk driving enter the fray.
The oddball stylistic shifts and a genuine sense of humor keep things from being all doom and gloom. Somehow even pontification on death terror is delivered with awry sense of humor and there are some moments of guitar-shredding release that are pure bliss.
The one-two punch of “1937 State Park” and “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not an)” in the middle of the album is an absolute highlight for me. They’re a tandem of weird rockers that leave you excited for but unsure of what will come next.
Teens of Denial is an early favorite for my album of the year pick. Listen to it immediately.