I first heard Car Seat Headrest on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Will Toledo (lead singer and band leader) caught my attention because he looked like a young Conor Oberst and he was surrounded by what seemed like a bunch of homeless teenagers and one out of place high school football player who was playing the tiniest drum set in the world. As they started playing and Toledo’s voice cracked in and out of falsetto I was captivated. The three songs were all acoustic so I was pleasantly surprised when I searched for their their album Teens of Style and it was a fuzzy lo-fi rock n roll album that sounded like something I might have listened to in High School. It’s a collection of songs re-recorded from Toledo’s vast collection of self recorded Bandcamp albums. But it was just a glimpse into his potential as a songwriter and musician.
In June they released their second album Teens of Denial. It’s more polished than Teens of Style, but that doesn’t mean the band has lost it’s edge or that the songs of lost their angst. Lyrically Toledo is at his best. Besides Courtney Barnett he’s the best wordsmith in rock n roll right now. Listen to “Drugs With Friends” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. He combines humor and despair as he documents his struggle with depression, drinking, and drug use. It’s a little self loathing but that’s what makes it so great. It’s honest.
It’s not hard to hear Toledo’s rock influences in these songs. The opening guitar riff of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” sounds like it could have opened on In Utero. Throughout the album you can hear echos of Pavement and Pinkerton’s best songs. Sadly The Cars sample had to to be taken out of “Not What I Needed” (originally titled Just What I Needed/Not What I needed), but it’s just an internet search away and necessary to listen to.
This is the best album of the year so far not put out by Chance The Rapper or Radiohead. It rocks, it’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s just the beginning and of what is hopefully a great career for Car Seat Headrest.