Car Seat Headrest: Making a Door Less Open (Matador) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, May 31st, 2020  

Car Seat Headrest

Making a Door Less Open

Matador

May 04, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Will Toledo is a lover of reinvention. His band—Car Seat Headrest—has, at different points, been a lo-fi Bandcamp project, indie darling, and a formidable arena-sized live act. Currently, the project is known best for its indie rock odysseys. However, fans of Toledo’s pre-Matador releases know his musical ambitions lie beyond rock music alone. Making a Door Less Open is the band’s most radical reinvention since signing with Matador. The album is billed as a collaboration with Toledo’s side project 1 Trait Danger and sees the band delving into electronic soundscapes and beat-driven instrumentals. 

Listeners will quickly notice there is no real unifying aesthetic for these tracks. The band recorded the album twice, once with electronic instrumentation and once live, and combined them to capture the best of both styles. “Can’t Cool Me Down” leans to the electronic side of this project. It is sparse, driven by chilly synth leads and a drum machine. The bass supplies most of the rock instrumentation. Meanwhile, the following song, “Deadlines (Hostile)” could fit in well on Car Seat Headrest’s 2016 album, Teens of Denial. The subsequent track, “Hollywood,” goes in an even further left-field direction, veering between hard rock guitar, spoken word passages, and screamed vocals. Lyrically, the song is also a large change. Instead of Toledo’s usual examinations of maturity, love, and loss, it is a tirade against Hollywood exploitation. It is rathert jarring to hear the band singing about “12 year olds on pills/Waking up in bed with big producers.” The screamed vocals—courtesy of drummer Andrew Katz—could be a sticking point for listeners, but some might appreciate the commitment to the over the top approach.

The band’s mix-ups sometimes pay off wonderfully, such as in the case of the opener, “Weightlifters.” It has an alluring progression, beginning with droning synth tones, and slowly layering instrumentation on top. It is surprisingly dynamic, given the muted opening. “Martin” is another highlight. The horns and Frank Ocean-esque pitched up vocals are a welcome addition and the song has one of the stronger choruses on the album. Unfortunately, some of these sonic detours feel substanceless, as in the case of “Hymn (Remix),” a frantic dance track. The pulsing synths and chopped up vocal come off more grating than arresting. The band pulls off a similar approach better on “Famous,” the album’s closer.

Making a Door Less Open is sure to divide fans. The indiscriminate approach makes for a disorienting listen and a scattershot presentation makes it feel like less of a holistic artistic statement than the band’s previous albums. However, it is exciting to see the band going in a bold new direction, and there are plenty of strong tracks here. The album’s best songs show the potential of a more focused implementation of these styles. But if you’re willing to go along for the ride, you’ll find a lot to love in Will Toledo’s latest reinvention. (www.carseatheadrest.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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