Published May 18, 2016Car Seat Headrest, the indie rock brainchild of Will Toledo, steadily developed from a series of lo-fi tracks recorded in his car as a teenager, but a well-timed signing to Matador Records allowed the project to grow more quickly. Last fall's Teens of Style introduced a full band and proper studio to a selection of the project's best songs to catch up new fans (and get the band acquainted with being a band), and Teens of Denial gives the augmented fan base a collection of new tracks that make great use of the new equipment.
Though the means may have changed, the new album bears more stylistic resemblance to Toledo's Bandcamp recordings than Teens of Style, featuring Toledo's old trademarks of songs that exceed the 10-minute mark and an overarching, self-referential narrative. Musically, Teens of Denial is a love letter to pop rock bands of the early '90s — most notably Pavement and Weezer — but with a compositional and orchestral scope more akin to Titus Andronicus, channelling the New Jersey punk band's penchant for dramatic flourishes and grandiose statements more than the slacker vibes of his heroes. Guitar rock rules the album's exceptional opening half, hitting its apex with the ingenious, duelling hooks of "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales."
The best usage of the expanded palette comes at the album's climax of "Cosmic Hero" and "The Ballad of the Costa Concordia," where horns punctuate the densely relatable lyrics. Toledo's lyrics bear similarity to those of Destroyer's Dan Bejar in that both engage deeply with the Western art canon, but Toledo is very openly a young man struggling with responsibilities, and uses the references to increase understanding, rather than alienate.
Despite clocking in at a whopping 70 minutes, Car Seat Headrest pack enough hooks in to avoid lagging, thanks to Toledo's practice with his lengthy yet phenomenal earlier albums Twin Fantasy and How to Leave Town. Though Teens of Style may have been an introduction to Toledo's sound, Teens of Denial is an excellent introduction to the project's wider vision. (Matador)