From the moment Car Seat Headrest announced their newest project, it became the first record in history that both everybody and nobody asked for.
Will Toledo and co. return after 2016’s “Teens of Style” with a redux of 2011’s lo-fi indie internet cult classic “Twin Fantasy.” It’s been almost seven years since Toledo, who then was the sole member of the group, released that album — one that would find its way into the shadowy nooks and crannies of online music discussion boards before it ultimately landed him a record deal with Matador Records. Now, after three releases on the label, the band officially announced Jan. 9 that its newest release would reimagine “Twin Fantasy.”
“It was never a finished work, and it wasn’t until last year that I figured out how to finish it.” Toledo wrote in a Jan. 9 Matador statement.
And depending on how you feel about Car Seat Headrest’s latest releases, this either excites you, scares the everloving sh*t out of you or both. Toledo is returning to one of his most beloved albums (plus, we’re finally getting a physical release of both versions), but sonically and developmentally he has almost certainly moved on. If you’re a die-hard fan of just Twin Fantasy, then this makes you instantly skeptical: what the hell is he trying to do with my favorite album?
You can tell from the first sound on this album — the track “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” — that we’re dealing with a different beast. Instead of the echoing, low-fidelity thuds that opened the 2011 version, we hear tight, crystal-clear kicks before Toledo’s voice joins in. This might cause some doubt among the lo-fi fanatics — but luckily for the skeptics, Toledo got a lot right in 2011, and he knows it. For the most part, you’re not going to hear any changes in the fundamental melodies or song structures on this record. All the chord progressions, melodies, harmonies and vocal parts are basically intact. If you’re coming into this straight after repeat listenings of the original version, you’re not going to have any problems singing along to the choruses.
Basically everything else is different, or, at the very least, updated. “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” gently eases you into this realization — it sounds almost exactly the same as its 2011 counterpart, apart from the aforementioned higher-fi sound and a slower, more subdued rhythm guitar contributing flourishy riffing forward in the mix. After that, though? Everything is fair game.
“Beach Life-in-Death,” the second track, plays the same game as “My Boy” in the beginning. It’s a 13-minute song (the original is a minute shorter) broken into three distinct parts. The first section sounds pretty similar to the 2011 content, aside from some compelling drumming and noisy background samples, providing a much more frantic feeling. One of the best passages on both versions of this album is the end of part one, jumping into the second. The song steadily builds up to this climax, punctuated at each rise by one repeated, syncopated, ascending riff. At some point, it’s played again, and out of nowhere the song jumps to Toledo playing this fuzzy broken chord for a good 30 or 40 seconds before it’s joined by a rolling bassline and becomes the backbone of the second part.
We get this section in the 2018 version too — the chord is even more fuzzed-out and warm than in the original. Instead of seamlessly flowing into the development of the second part, the song immediately transitions into this weird, bluesy section which loses all emotional momentum the song had for at least the next minute.
The songs that follow are filled with similar surprises. “Sober to Death”’s ending, filled with erratic, disjointed guitar leads is smoothed out to the point of blandness. The glam rock of “Nervous Young Inhumans,” while a fun update, sounds tonally inconsistent until it’s saved by some good transition work at the beginning of “Bodys.” There are a handful of hits, but the misses add up — and, ultimately, none of the songs give you the sense that all this was worth returning to an album for.
Until the last three, which redeem this record’s existence entirely. The ending trilogy of “High to Death,” “Famous Prophets (Stars)” and “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)” bring this album straight to its conceptual center, similar to the way they did in the 2011 version. But here, the conceptual center is the work that Toledo produced in 2011. He completely reverses the way he’s handled the previous songs’ updates — massive changes and additions to lyrics while sonic dimensions remain the same, instead of vice versa.
There’s a good amount to unpack in these last three songs, an endeavor worthy of the active listener. At the end, Toledo acknowledges who he was when he made that record — “Twin Fantasy: Mirror to Mirror,” the new version subtitled “Face to Face” — someone who couldn’t face himself. He finds that “twin fantasy,” his desire to be one with the person who left him, is exactly that — a fantasy, because his entire conception of the person was a fantasy, projected from his own desires. But it’s not a stunning revelation to him, more than half a decade removed from the events of the album, as revealed from his almost uncaring spoken-word. It’s just a truth, something lived by essentially another person, disconnecting itself from passion and only returning in the gray, neutral substrate of memory. “This is the end of the song, and it’s just a song,” Toledo says tiredly in the final moments of the album.
This complete opposition to self-indulgent sadness is pretty striking, especially considering “Face to Face” was an album considered in the same canon as, say, “Pinkerton,” your favorite Death Cab album — basically anything the word “softboy” could be applied to. And the exasperation in Toledo’s voice at the end reveals that, in some portion, this album isn’t for him, but for his listeners. Snap out of it, he says. See people for who they are, not what you might want them to be. Go outside, he croons, “Look at the sun.”