Car Seat Headrest
Making a Door Less Open
When your label debut is something as seismic as the one-two punch of Teens of Style and Teens of Denial, you’re going to be saddled with expectations, no two ways about it. Do you consider expectation, respond to it even? Maybe you respond to the expected response to how you respond? Or do you say screw it, and antagonize anyone who was going to care either way? Car Seat Headrest never really seems to settle on an answer, which may explain the hectic, somewhat haphazard Making a Door Less Open, an album with a vision never completely stitched together, but all the while finding joy in pulling at every available thread. In the end we’re left with something full of holes, but wholly unique.
The first and most obvious thread CSH songwriter Will Toledo yanks is the pivot to electronic music. While it’s not nearly as hard a turn as the album rollout would have had you believe, there are significant changes—most notably in personel, as this record is all but exclusively a collaboration between Toledo and drummer Andrew Katz, a partnership born out of their comedic, electronic side-project 1 Trait Danger. This intention is made clear early on, with album opener “Weightlifters” and “Can’t Cool Me Down,” a pair of percussive, synthetic examples of a New Direction. This comes to a head most drastically on “Deadlines (Thoughtful),” a truly cacophonous, sometimes grating Katz-centric song with a festival-sized drop and not a guitar in sight.
But ultimately, it’s a bit they commit to with the kind of slacker resolve of the characters that litter their discography. “If you really wanna make it last / You could commit yourself completely,” Toledo sings on Teens of Denial’s “Cosmic Hero,” a fitting distillation of the sometimes half-hearted nature of the record. MaDLO’s best song, “Martin”—a refreshingly sincere soup of acoustic guitar, (Sandy) Alex G–esque vocal pitching, and a scintillating horn breakdown—is a wonderful argument against following any one credo too strictly.
What stands out more than any shift in sound or production is Car Seat Headrest’s patient willingness to follow a single thread to its logical end, a stark shift from the stop-and-go melodic mania of much of their past work. Where older songs like “Beach Life-In-Death” or “Vincent” have enough ideas to fill albums, MaDLO finds Toledo dialing down the breakneck speed a bit. “There Must Be More Than Blood” may be the longest song on the record, but rather than a bombardment of frantic left turns, it uses its droning, meditative repetition as a way to slow-walk to one of the album’s best, most explosive choruses.
This is far from a perfect record, and will likely leave some listeners disappointed. Songs like “Hollywood” and “What’s With You Lately” feel like drafts, with neither an adherence to change or a newfound focus. But there’s a difference between disappointment and disgust. Even the moments that don’t work perfectly are inflected with the kind of Toledoisms you really can’t get anywhere else. Whether that be spoken word interruptions, witty, tossed-away lines, or call-and-response vocals, Will Toledo is still very much present, idiosyncrasies and all. The fact is, he may have just added a dozen more.