REVIEW: Car Seat Headrest - Teens Of Style

Kelly Kirwan

Will Todelo is a Bandcamp hero. 

At twenty-three, he’s posted eleven albums to the indie-inclined platform, starting in the latter years of high school with a makeshift studio and word-of-mouth strategy. In fact, Toledo’s musical moniker comes from those years spent in the backseat of his car, recording tracks and tinkering with his style, staring at the Car Seat Headrest that would become his namesake. Going through his oeuvre, you hear a coming of age anthology, one brimming with angst, self-discovery, and bursts of older-than-his-years insight.

Now, as a young adult with an English Lit degree in one hand and a deal with Matador Records in the other, Toledo has decided to revisit the songs of his past for a little professionally-produced enhancement. It’s a move that caters to more than just Toledo’s nostalgia. It’s for the slow-forming fans that went from a select few to a full-on following—who found Car Seat Headrest’s tracks in the labyrinth of Bandcamp, and continually came back. 

Teens of Style is an album that hovers between Toledo’s do-it-yourself past and streamlined future. It’s polishing the pages of a lost diary, and turning it into a widely-distributed manifesto. The album has a '90s alternative rock feel to it, with Toledo’s affinity for distorted guitar and wry deliveryof (often) frustrated lyrics. The song "Something Soon" traipses from lo-fi bridges to guitar-banging choruses under the dry vocals, “I was referring to the present in past tense / It was the only way that I could survive it.” It’s a track that evokes those teenage feelings of nihilism, that pent-up internal irritation that presents externally as an apathetic eye roll. 

Then there’s "Times to Die," which speaks to the growing pains of new adulthood and artistry, starting off with, “All of my friends are getting married / All of my friends are right with God,” and goes on to paint an allegory that merges record deals with religious rites—an artist’s divine deliverance. It’s the album’s longest track, stretching nearly seven minutes in a free-form song structure that feels cohesive even as it goes through different phases.

The clever philosophy of the piece speaks to Toledo’s literary background (gravitating toward the brevity and realness of Raymond Carver and James Joyce) and his longing for lyrics with meaning. Originally titled, “Fuck You Merge Records,” for the label that once denied him, Toledo tweaked the track to fit with his current situation: “Got to have faith in the one above me / Got to believe that Lombardi loves me”. By Lombardi he means Chris Lombardi, the founder of Matador Records and Toledo’s proverbial deity, ready to widen his new protege’s cult following. 

Teens of Style is an interesting stepping stone in Car Seat Headrest’s catalog. It’s both a re-working and in certain ways a farewell. The artist that once gravitated to the reclusiveness of Jandek is now interested in the showmanship of James Brown. Suffice it to say, there’s new territory to be explored ahead. But, even as Toledo moves out from the underground, his latest LP shows he won’t forget his roots.

Teens of Style is out Friday, October 30, and is currently available for pre-order