Album Review: Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial

Surprisingly enough, one of the most telling and illustrative details of Car Seat Headrest’s incredibly emotional aesthetic is, ironically, the origin of the project’s namesake. It is said that Toledo adopted this title due to the fact that he recorded the material found in his eleven self-released albums in the backseat of his car as an attempt to obtain privacy and secrecy, which, in turn, succeeds in further emphasizing the intense feelings of yearning, isolation, and cynicism that his music tends to portray. These songs would go on to create Teens of Style – Toledo’s first collaboration with Matador records – and despite being re-recorded, the album thankfully still had that addictive, intimate lo-fi sound reminiscent of that backseat studio. However, the component that carried over well into Teens of Denial – Toledo’s first official album for Matador – was his songwriting, which, despite its often personal and direct nature, works concurrently as something in which an audience is free to relate with or simply entertain. Toledo’s honesty and versatility is what makes Teens Of Denial one of the finest examples of what it truly means to be a cynical, yet fearful twenty-something simultaneously indulged in and disgusted with the modernity of life, passionately told by the poster child himself.

Teens Of Denial revolves around several themes, with self-deprecation, drug abuse, and depression being the most prominent. However, they are not presented in such vague, aggressive ways, even though the brash, raging instrumentals hint at an angry, impatient spectator of the apparent injustice of the world and its musings. It’s actually quite the opposite, as Toledo’s way of expressing his ideas are direct and highly intelligent, and much like his previous work, his lyrics and brash orchestration remain incredibly self-aware. In fact, it is his personality that makes Car Seat Headrest function, and we see it repeatedly interacting with the aforementioned themes throughout the album. Opener “Fill in the Blank” remains one of the most  memorable due to its killer guitar, as well as one of the most brilliantly and deceptively personal, as Toledo both denies and justifies his right to be depressed. Many of the songs on this album wouldn’t exist if not for the aspects of life that are considered part of growing and maturing, which probably explains the references to drug use in “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” as well as the questions in love and relationships in the bright, melodic track “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An).” The former also contains one of the many profound two-liners in the album, as Toledo assumes “its more than what you bargained for / but its a little less than what you paid for,” while the latter has some of the most inspired chord progressions I’ve heard in quite some time.

At its core, however, Teens of Denial remains a dense, sprawling narrative, as many tracks serve as a sort of audio-biography for Toledo. For instance, the slower track “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)” – yes, real title – has Toledo explaining his first psychedelic experience as a disappointment, considering he did not feel enlightened or transformed, only more aware of his current unfortunate state of existence. The refrain is absolutely brilliant, as it oscillates between his need of friends with his need of something synthetic to take him far away from them, both mentally and emotionally. “The Ballad of The Costa Concordia” is the magnum opus of the album, jam-packed in its eleven minute duration with everything from a re-imagining of Dido’s “White Flag” to lines upon lines of Toledo listing all the fears he has for the future and lamenting all the things he isn’t able to do on his own quite yet, but are still required of an adult human being. The honesty and genuine fear shines through, which is also emphasized with Toledo explaining, like a child, that he stays up late every night “out of some general protest/ but with no one to tell you to come to bed/ its not really a contest.” The party hating track “Vincent” – about “wanting to leave but not wanting to go home” – leads into the introspective “Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales,” which are the two best tracks on the album, at least for us. The addictive guitar twang and brash nature of “Vincent” completely offsets Toledo’s pained wails towards the end of “Killer Whales,” and remain the most evocative of Toledo’s influence and overall way of thinking.

The length of this review is already evident of the sheer amount of things to be said about Teens Of Denial, and to say them all would just be redundant. In fact, that might be the only thing truly worth complaining about with Car Seat Headrest – that at times its a bit too much way too fast, with references, personal anecdotes, and swirling, rampaging instrumentals coming in waves all at once. However, despite the fact that Toledo pours out his soul in this way, he never really asks you to visit the most honest, visceral, and vulnerable parts of your mind along with him. Though, with this sort of music, it doesn’t hurt to do so every now and again.

9.0/10

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “First World Problem”

Psych-pop trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra have released their first single since their excellent third album Multi-Love, which was on our list for the top ten albums of 2015. “First World Problem” follows the same funky, gauzy aesthetic that the group is now exclusively known for, but sounds just a bit more euphoric and textured than their previous repertoire. Ruban Nielson’s voice is just as pleasantly mercurial and sharp as ever, as he sings of “modern love in a crumbling empire.” The instrumentals are slick and agile, complete with a triumphant trumpet introduction remarkably appropriate for the trio’s reappearance.

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photo by Dusdin Condren

The Strokes – “Threat of Joy”

Earlier today, The Strokes announced the release of their brand new EP Future Present Past, and also shared its three track in consecutive order, being the dynamic “OBLIVIUS,” the deep, sharp “Drag Queen,” and the strong, passionate “Threat of Joy.” The third is definitely the most mellow and reminiscent of The Strokes’ signature sound, although all three are stellar. Juilian Casablancas’ vocals are gorgeously lethargic, contrasting nicely with bright, peppy instrumentals. It is unclear if this will lead to a full-length album in the future, but at least we can take comfort knowing that The Strokes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Future Present Past will be released June 3rd.

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photo via consequence of sound (original source unknown)

Whitney – “No Matter Where We Go”

Alt-country group Whitney are getting ready to release their highly anticipated debut album Light Upon The Lake next week, and have already shared the absolutely gorgeous “No Woman” as well as the mellow tune “Golden Days” as teasers. Their newest tune and video, “No Matter Where We Go,” is also simultaneously their first, considering a demo of the track came out in May of last year. In comparison with this newer, clearer version, the demo was a bit more minimal, with a grittier and hazier overall sound. The guitar proves to be the focal point within these tracks, and on this it’s no exception, especially when intertwined with Julian Ehrlich’s falsetto-esque vocals. Even though I prefer the older, borderline psychedelic version, the updated tune still portrays Whitney’s carefree, cheerful vibe incredibly well, and points to an impressive album.

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Album Review: Mutual Benefit – Skip A Sinking Stone

It’s been ages since I’ve posted a proper album review, and I’m so happy to start up the process again with the brand new Mutual Benefit album, whose music I fell in love with after hearing the brilliant and absolutely gorgeous debut album Love’s Crushing Diamond, released back in 2013. Jordan Lee creates the sort of soft, atmospheric, baroque folk music that deserves to be contemplated and understood, and Skip A Sinking Stone is absolutely no exception, which, ironically, makes this album review somewhat premature. However, Mutual Benefit also has the unique ability to completely encompass the listener and make them part of the delicate, placid world that Jordan Lee bends over backwards in creating, which, in turn, puts the noise and destruction of the real world on pause.

Skip A Sinking Stone is seamlessly presented in two equal parts – the first half being a sprawling orchestration of the excitement and anxiety of life on the road, and the second being the soundtrack to Lee’s life in his home of New York City, which remains incredibly intimate and melancholy in comparison. In fact, opener “Madrugada” and the seventh track “Nocturne” function as thesis statements for these contrasting themes, considering the lush, ornate instrumentation and embellishment of the former and the quiet, Debussy-esque emotion and contemplation of the latter. While some critics may debate that the first half of this album lacks in emotion, tracks like “Lost Dreamers” – which seems to evoke the same sort of infatuation that enveloped Lee’s past work the most – and “Closer Still” have more feeling packed into their short duration than some indie folk artists have in entire albums. “Not For Nothing” is the last track before this intense shift in thought, also being the track most out of line with Lee’s past work, sounding more like the work of a simpler musician rather than the impassioned artist that brought us Love’s Crushing Diamond as well as the standout track “Advanced Falconry,” a complex, yet still incredibly subtle ballad I still revere to this day as being one of the most thoughtful, gorgeous songs I have ever had the honor of listening to. However, despite its simplicity, it demonstrates Lee’s ability to experiment and not linger within his aesthetic, which he must know by now is tried and true.

The second half of the album is much more introspective and calm, beginning, at least for me, with the haunting, distant track “Many Returns,” where Lee’s voice sounds gorgeously strained and yearning with passion, transforming it into a lush, dreamy soundscape. Although, that is where most of the fault lies with Skip A Sinking Stone, that it is sometimes far too vague and personal to relate with, and it is easy to become lost in the swells of synth, guitar, and menagerie of orchestral instrumentals and lose sight of what the album truly means. Nevertheless, it occurs rarely and sparsely, and even the tracks that fall victim to this are chock full of emotion, especially “The Hereafter,” perhaps the most perfect closing that this album could possibly have. Lee’s voice has never been more soft or delicate, which is only elevated with the melodies of the piano in the background. Through many of the tracks are arguably worthy of the standout title, “Skipping Stones” is well worth your while, as it accurately portrays Lee and Mutual Benefit as it is in reality, a peaceful companion to the journey, the destination, and the growth that occurs in between.

7.7/10

 

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Glass Animals – “Life Itself”

Indie funk-pop quartet Glass Animals have shared the first snippet of How To Be A Human Being, the follow up to the absolutely brilliant debut album Zaba, which was on our list for the best albums of 2014 due to its sleek construction and wonderfully quirky lyrics. “Life Itself,” however, hints at drastic change in the group’s sound, as it swaps out that clean, smooth production and effortlessly hazy vibe with loud, funky drums and angular instrumentals. Although, one thing that thankfully remains static is frontman Dave Bayley’s strong, addictive vocals, which elevate the track from a simple groovy tune to an absolute jam.

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Big Thief – “Paul”

Over the past few months, Brooklyn-based band Big Thief have been sharing little bits and pieces from their upcoming debut album Masterpiece, including the title track as well as the emotional “Real Love.” Their latest single “Paul” is probably the group’s most heartbreaking, and, ironically, the most gorgeous release yet, due to Adrianne Lenker’s soft, passionate vocals and swells of glowing guitar, as well as its delicate, yearning lyrics. According to Lenker, the track is more of “a raging internal battle than it is a love song,” which proves to be more apparent as it plays on.

Masterpiece will be released May 27th.

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photo by Michael Buishas

Mercury Girls – “All That Heaven Allows”

A few weeks ago, pop-punk group Mercury Girls announced the release of their debut 7″ and soon after, released the a-side, the bright, jangly track “Ariana.” Now, the quintet has finally released the b-side, the dark, shimmering tune “All That Heaven Allows,” which functions as its exact opposite in terms of sound and emotion. Sarah Schimineck’s distant, chilling vocals lay atop crunchy, moody instrumentals and a gorgeous underlying guitar melody, providing some backbone for the eventual full length in the works.

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Seratones – “Chandelier”

Seratones’ recent debut album Get Gone is chock full of pure, rampaging, unapologetic sound, with influence ranging everywhere from Prince to T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” (which is, I must say, one of my favorite poems). On the Louisiana band’s single “Chandelier” – perhaps the best track off the new album – you can hear bits of soul mixed with pieces of crunchy rock, and you can even catch a few waves of garage punk in the instrumentals. However, it is lead singer and guitarist A.J. Haynes’ crystal clear, gorgeously mercurial voice that makes the track that much more extraordinary – especially in the chorus, where it goes from tough to soft, then right back to tough in one wonderful loop.

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photo by Chad Kamenshine

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – “People-Vultures”

Considering they have released eight studio albums in the past four years, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might just be one of the hardest working psych-rock bands out there, and with their newest release Nonagon Infinity, it’s definitely clear they have the skills to back up that kind of panache. After the brilliant, acoustic shimmer of last year’s Paper Mâché Dream Balloon“People-Vultures” has them going back to their classic, lo-fi pysch roots, complete with strong, jagged vocals, insane guitar melodies, and distorted instrumentals. The track, along with the rest of the album, almost sounds as if it was perpetually live, succeeding in making it sound somehow both visceral and focused at the same time. As if the song wasn’t fantastic enough, the music video is both as bizarre as it is brilliant. Check it out below.

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