Review: Car Seat Headrest reaches greatness with ‘Teens Of Denial’

Will Toledo was no newcomer to the music scene when the so called “first” Car Seat Headrest album, Teens of Style was released last year through Matador Records. Toledo had already completed 11 self-released albums on his Bandcamp page and attracted a small cult following. Their first official album, Teens Of Style, was a sort of greatest hits collection from his catalog that showed a prolific songwriter on the verge of discovering greatness.

The follow-up album, Teens Of Denial, released on March 20, is one of the most enjoyable albums of 2016 so far.

On Denial, Car Seat Headrest has transitioned from a Toledo-led solo project into a cohesive four-piece band. The result is a fuller sound and a young band displaying great confidence behind the leadership of a powerful and prolific songwriter.

Drummer Andrew Katz is a Eugene native who graduated from South Eugene High School and the University of Oregon with an economics degree. Rounding out the lineup are Ethan Ives on guitar and Seth Dalby on bass.

The album was originally set for a Friday the 13th release, but after the vinyl and CDs had already been pressed, Ric Ocasek of the Cars declined the band the rights to sample the Cars’ classic “Just What I Needed” on “Just What I Needed / Not Just What I Needed.” The first pressings were recalled and destroyed; Matador Records estimates the move will cost them at least $50,000. Physical copies of the album are now scheduled for a July release, but Denial is currently available for digital download.

Toledo rewrote the song and turned it into “Not What I Needed,” which is actually a superior version of a similar-sounding song – now with a sample of the Teens of Style highlight, “Something Soon,” placed at the end among a loop of backwards crash cymbals. In the end, the album was improved by the song swap.

“(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)” is not only the album’s longest and best title but also its most moving song. As his alter-ego, Joe, Toledo sings of a disappointing chemically-induced trip: “Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms / I did not transcend I felt like a walking piece of shit / with a stupid looking jacket.”

The album reaches an emotional peak with the 11-minute epic “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia.” In the midsection, the music stops save for a few dark piano chords fit for an Adele track. Toledo’s cathartic monologue is punctuated by a thunderous guitar attack that unburdens him of all the issues following the first major Car Seat Headrest tour and what seem to be painful childhood memories.

The leaps the band made in a single year are astonishing. Genres are beautifully blended, from the grungy “Destroyed By Hippy Powers” to the Strokes-esque “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” to the gentle balladry of “Joe Goes To School.” Toledo is quickly earning the reputation of a leading rock songwriter.