Car Seat Headrest better with more mileage

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

Last week, the indie rock group Car Seat Headrest released “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face),” an update to and re-recording of their 2011 album “Twin Fantasy,” which has been retitled “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror)” to avoid confusion.

The original album, which was recorded largely on a laptop and released through Bandcamp, was raw and stripped down. While it did become quite popular with dedicated fans of the band, in part due to a sense of authenticity derived from the album’s unpolished feel, “Twin Fantasy” was an album begging to be re-recorded in an actual studio.

In a press release for the album, journalist and music critic Peyton Thomas wrote that Will Toledo, the group’s front man and chief songwriter, “never could square his grand ambitions against his mechanical limitations.”

Toledo originally recorded the album largely on his own at the age of nineteen (Carseat Headrest began as his solo project). While the group has stayed stylistically close to their roots and while Toledo continues to favor a fairly low-fidelity production style, much has changed since 2011.

Now that Car Seat Headrest is signed to Matador Records and Will Toledo has access to professional recording and production equipment, the group has learned to balance its characteristic lo-fi style with professional standards of musical quality.

A comparison of “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)” with the original album reveals that while the band may have lost some of its authenticity in transitioning to commercial recording, Will Toledo has turned the resources he’s been granted access to into a great amplifier for the artistic power of his music.

The differences between the versions of individual songs from the old recording and the new recording are subtle and easy to overlook, but viewed as a whole, the two releases have strikingly different feels. The old album, while good, is raw and takes some work to appreciate. The new album, on the other hand, is downright easy-listening. None of the songs quite qualify as poppy or radio friendly, yet the listener finds himself nodding his head and tapping his foot in a way that he never would have while listening to the old recording.

This new easiness comes with its drawbacks. It’s much easier to listen to the new album without really listening to it. The songs sound much better, but they don’t really demand attention in the way that the old album’s unfinished feel did.

Still, it’s not that difficult to pay attention for the duration of the hour and ten minute record, and it’s not the job of bands to write for their least attentive listeners anyway.

Songs, like “Cute Thing,” a guitar driven rock song with a reserved rhythm punctuated by intermittent outbursts of heavy distorted guitar, benefit enormously from the power achievable only through professional recording.

Other songs, like “Nervous Young Inhumans,” which is basically a long, slow jam with periods of spoken word lyrics accompanied only by a subdued guitar rhythm, benefit from the legitimacy which professional recording and producing lends a song. Such a song, when recorded in the back seat of a car on a laptop, feels like a collection of the pseudointellectual ramblings of a teenager. Recording the track in a professional studio, however, gives Will Toledo’s voice an intangible confidence which makes the song more convincing and sincere.

This sincerity is perhaps the greatest surprise of the album. Few artists in their mid-20’s could look back on their songwriting efforts from over six years ago without feeling some level of embarrassment. Like all young people, artists grow and mature, and their songwriting matures with them. The fact that Will Toledo can re-record his work from 2011 without any detectable sense of embarrassment is a testament to just how artistically mature he was at the age of 19.

Overall, the album is both more interesting and more fun to listen to than the original recording. Considering that the original was already quite an impressive collection of songs, “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)” is certainly well worth a listen.