Car Seat Headrest, “Twin Fantasy”

Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy
MATADOR
8/10

In 2018, does an album really ever need to be finished? Kanye West tweaked The Life of Pablo months after it hit Tidal. Future tacked on multiple songs to both of his 2017 albums once their chart strength faded. Young Thug seasoned Beautiful Thugger Girls with a Quavo verse that was absent from the original release.

In keeping with the times, Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo decided to revisit Twin Fantasy, his pre–major label album that has amassed a fervent cult following since its (in)completion in 2011. But if that sounds like an unambitious way to follow up Teens of Denial, his band’s 2016 breakthrough, you’ll likely be surprised by the scope of its reimagining. Toledo doesn’t merely toss us a Quavo verse for flavor (although I strongly recommend that he consider doing so—there’s still time); he uses his bigger budget, better band, and newfound studio mastery to push these songs to the sort of dizzying heights that were unachievable in his Bandcamp days.

A vocal faction of the Car Seat Headrest fanbase will swear that the original Twin Fantasy (Fantasy ’11 has been retroactively subtitled Mirror to Mirror, with its update being dubbed Face to Face) is superior. They are well within their rights to be wrong. But Fantasy ’18 is a substantial leap forward in nearly every respect. While Mirror to Mirror has a likeable scrappiness, its compositions feel positively skeletal next to the robust, layered reworkings of Face to Face. The lo-fi dishevelment of Mirror wielded a certain shaggy charm, but Face gives new life to songs that merited more meat on their bones.

Above all, regardless of your preferred version, Twin Fantasy is an ode to teenage infatuation at its most frustrated and unfulfilled, deftly bottling the all-consuming ache of unrequited love. Toledo has largely remained tight-lipped about specifics, but there’s little doubt that the lust coursing through Fantasy’s veins comes from a deeply personal place. The result is transcendent songwriting, at turns grimly hilarious and quietly devastating. These songs worm into your brain in a dozen different ways. “Bodys” and “Cute Thing” are bright and propulsive, capturing awkward adolescence with sly precision. “Beach Life-n-Death” and “Famous Prophets (Stars)” are astonishing in both their grasp and their reach (the latter in particular feels like a high water mark for the band), thirteen and sixteen-minute epics, respectively, with multiple, masterful emotional crescendos.

Pumping an additional eleven minutes into what was already a lengthy record, Twin Fantasy is more self-indulgent than it has any business being. But it showcases Toledo further sharpening his vision and instincts, marrying the raw passion of his early work with the increasingly impressive sheen of his newest material. In theory, a Twin Fantasy redo seemed unnecessary and pompous, a misguided detour in service of soothing an artist’s ego over past shortcomings. In execution, it’s as vital as anything released yet this year.

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