By Lucas Arthur, First Year Geography
Car Seat Headrest wipe the slate clean and reimagine their sound on latest record Making A Door Less Open.
Car Seat Headrest emerged from humble origins. Once at the forefront of DIY, frontman Will Toledo began penning albums in the backseat of his family’s car, rising up the ranks of American Indie rock through a combination of skill, novelty and endearment. The band’s lyrics are characterised by Toledo’s personal insecurities, while their sound has evolved across some 12 albums to encompass guitar rock, squiggly, experimental synths and nuanced psychedelia, evoking the sounds of artists from Pavement to Hot Chip. Making A Door Less Open arrives at a time when the band’s last album, released in 2018, has Spotify plays in the multi-millions, a far cry from lo-fi self-releases of 2010. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the band seems unsure of where to go next.
It’s a strong start at least. 'Weightlifters' is a tried-and-tested formula, an indie-disco tune beset by anxious synths and Toledo’s beloved brand of self-deprecation (“When I saw my ordinary face/ I should start lifting weights). The lead single ‘Can’t Cool Me Down’ is sleek and catchy; Toledo’s unsettled murmurs drift over plastic keyboards and 80’s synths, building to a slick refrain.
Then comes 'Hollywood'. With a bland, catchy riff and gang vocals, it’s akin to a Gorillaz track but without the spirit of fun – 'Hollywood makes me wanna puke' comes out in a strangled yelp, and there’s a thinly veiled irony to a track decrying celebrity lifestyles being the band’s most commercial release to date. Still, it’s better than ‘Deadlines (Thoughtful)’, a stab at indie-house complete with a ‘drop’ that sounds like something The Wanted would’ve coughed up in 2011. The contrast between this sugary pop and the detuned, throbbing, fever dream of 'Hymn' is just bizarre. While it’s admirable that the band are still experimenting, this combination of tracks on the same project is in poor taste.
Still, it’s better than ‘Deadlines (Thoughtful)’, a stab at indie-house complete with a ‘drop’ that sounds like something The Wanted would’ve coughed up in 2011.
A singer-songwriter by trade, some of Toledo’s stripped back sections were highlights of previous records. ‘What’s With You Lately’ has potential as a yearning acoustic ballad, but phones it in after just a minute and a half before delving back into mediocrity with “Life Worth Missing”. Like the Inoffensive radio-rock of ‘Deadlines (Hostile)’ and ‘Martin’, the track lacks the dynamism and punch found in previous records, settling instead for pop which is overblown and forgettable. Even on the more sombre cuts, where Toledo’s brilliant lyricism comes out to convey more mature emotion (“How could they treat you like a forgotten card? / Dear Dad, I’m Sorry), there’s a lack of development. 'There Must Be More' meanders along like an 8-miniute pre-chorus; 'Famous' promises more excitement, with it’s the jaunty recorder overdubs and wavering synths, only to burn out like a wet firework almost immediately. It’s a lacklustre ending to a relatively short project.
To their credit, the band is not the DIY outfit it once was. It should come as no surprise that they’ve chosen to explore new directions for the sake of a wider audience, but it comes at the cost of a cohesive album – The project is so lacking in direction it would sound better if played on shuffle. Even more infuriatingly, there’s glimpses of what-could’ve-been scattered throughout the project; Some of the tight hooks and soaring melodies feel as though they’ve been blunted in the pursuit of a more sanitised sound, while Toledo’s warbling feels plainly out of place in these new contexts. As such, despite a few solid tracks, it’s hard not to feel as though the band were asleep at the wheel.
Featured Image: Car Seat Headrest/Making A Door Less Open
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