Sunday Sweets: Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open
Each week the Sunday Sweets team dive into our Sweet 16 and Feature Albums.
Artist: Car Seat Headrest
Album: Making a Door Less Open
Will Toledo’s Car Seat Headrest return with their first album of original material since indie rock epic ‘Teens of Denial’ in 2016. Following the 2018 remastering of their Lo-Fi cult classic ‘Twin Fantasy’, fans have been eagerly awaiting what’s coming next.
On first impression, ‘Making a Door Less Open’ carries all the warning signs of a band taking a turn to the commercial. ‘Making a Door Less Open’ contains the shortest runtime of any of their records, conventional song lengths, simplistic lyricism and a shift to a more electronic, synth driven sound. Ten years in, the band complete their journey from Lo-Fi Indie to Indie Rock to Indietronica. That being said, this album is still deliberately strange, artistic, and filled with challenging quirks. From the album’s tripped out opening notes on ‘Weightlifters’, to the alien, nonsensical use of synthesisers on closing track ‘Famous’.
It is difficult to understand who this album is for. Old fans may be disappointed by a lack of experimentation and depth, and the average commercial music listener is likely not going to be able to digest it all. What becomes clear is that the album is not necessarily for any of these groups, but perhaps the group Car Seat Headrest themselves.
Over recent years, Will Toledo has embraced a full band, following his humble early solo recordings from either his bedroom or car; hence the name.
For the first time, other members of the band have leading vocal appearances. Drummer Andrew Katz passionately criticising fame and the awful things people may do to maintain their own fantasies on ‘Hollywood’, and guitarist Ethan Ives singing of losing his compassion on the intimate Elliot Smith styled ‘What’s with you Lately’.
Toledo touches on his struggles with stage anxiety on the groovy dance-pop ‘Can’t Cool me Down’, which sounds as influenced by off-beat electronic artists Caribou or Black Moth Super Rainbow. These are not the bands typical influences such as The Strokes or Television. It is this anxiety and desire to share the spotlight on stage that has brought a new and more diverse energy to the record.
In the process of writing ‘Teens of Denial’, Toledo said he was studying the work of Radiohead. Trying to understand what it was that elevated a record from ‘great’ to a ‘classic’. He was obsessive and incredibly critical of his own output. It seems like on ‘Making a Door Less Open’, he’s resisted that pressure, and made an album for himself and his band, rather than the critics.
Within that comparison however, this record functions somewhat like the ‘In Rainbows’ of his catalogue. Following multiple progressive and challenging records the band have brought us a more upbeat and playful album. That still feels significant and beautifully orchestrated, but without a layer of pretension, depth and conceptual tightness of its predecessors.
Beyond issues with Hollywood and the burdens of touring, Car Seat Headrest once again focus on disarmingly relatable lyrical themes of anxiety, existential dread, and feelings of inadequacy.
The opening statement “I should lift more weights” on ‘Weightlifters’, establishes a wish for personal development that fluctuates continuously through the album. ‘Hymn Remix’ is a therapeutically intimate piece of stream of conscious venting over hypnotic synthesised organs. With Will repeatedly straining “I feel it in my heart, What will take its place?”, reaching a level of emotional potency similar to his earlier more Lo-Fi work.
Whilst reducing its personal touch, the additional polish and use of modern synthesisers has resulted in a number of beautiful and groovy moments, such as the rolling synth wave and EDM build of Deadlines (Thoughtful) and the pulsating synths that close ‘Can’t Cool Me Down’. The introduction of fellow bandmates voices also adds an intriguing new perspective to the band’s style. But some of the strongest tracks on the record are still those that feel most familiar to their past work. Such as the epic, conclusive statement ‘There Must be More Blood’ which feels like a continuation of one of the bands greatest tracks ‘The End of Dramamine’. The 7 minute, downtempo song features a sparse but experimental acoustic arrangement, with minimal electronic flares interspersed and Will’s heart lyrically on his sleeve.
As such, the album is an interesting and refreshing change of pace for Car Seat Headrest. One that finds them at a crossroads, where all paths seem to lead to light. Clearly still in touch with their foundations, and yet opening up exciting opportunities for continued development moving forward.
Written by Matt Thorely