Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy

by Mark Moody Rating:9 Release Date:2018-02-16
Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy
Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy

It’s generally established that about 400 years passed between the Old and New Testaments.  Will Toledo didn’t even make it ten years before coming back to apply revisionist history to his home-made Twin Fantasy LP, recorded as always under the Car Seat Headrest moniker.  But at a young age a lot changes in a short period of time and perspective even in your mid-20s can shift dramatically from what seemed catastrophic in your teens.  The album still thematically details a first serious relationship: from infatuation, to love, to dissolution.  But sticking with the Biblical parallel, Twin Fantasy v.1 was more in the Old Testament camp post-breakup by invoking God’s power to bend his beloved back to his door or smite him down. Twin Fantasy v.2 looks at things through more of a New Testament lens of forgiveness, acceptance, and grace.  The purest evidence resides on the track ‘Famous Prophets (Minds)’ which at its end originally detailed God in the form of earthquakes, splitting mountains and Toledo pleading for a changed outcome.  Now the track, pushed out an additional six minutes, quotes liberally from the New Testament’s 1 Corinthians as it winds down and washes the vengeance away.  Toledo includes the lines referencing “when I was a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became a man, I gave up childish things”, showing he is finally able to recount the relationship but move forward.  Weighty thoughts for a rock album, but Toledo if anything is a thinker and a detailed one at that.  If you want to just approach it as a musical reinvention that’s fine too, but it’s doing the work a disservice.    

Aside from Toledo’s new found perspective, other changes are apparent throughout the re-recorded version.  Most notable is the sonic upgrade which is not surprising.  Toledo did the same with 2015’s Teens of Style, which was a compilation of redone earlier tracks that fully side-stepped Twin Fantasy (now we see why).  The beneficiary of the v2 approach is primarily the clarity of Toledo’s vocals and the fleshed out drums, which in the earlier version sounded like pounding on Tupperware containers half full of nails or hitting a wet cardboard box.  What’s not changed fortunately are the urgency of the guitar work and the hooks that abound across the album’s expanded 70 minutes.  Fans of the earlier lo-fi version can take comfort that the the album remains noisy without being full of noise production wise.  In fact some of the songs even take the energy up a notch as the version of ‘Bodys’ here is simply a scorcher.  With a buzzing guitar line reminiscent of ‘Fill in the Blank’, the song really does deliver in the choruses as Toledo still includes his aside here on that topic.  And the final two minutes continue to ascend. 

But starting from the beginning, ‘My Boy (Twin Fantasy)’ is a perfectly constructed Beach Boys sounding intro, with a bass thrum and simple drum tap building to Toledo hitting high notes and layering in harmonies.  This gives way to the first of two ten-minute plus songs, ‘Beach Life-in-Death’ where Toledo is at his most descriptive detailing the beginning days of their relationship - “we threw rocks into the river, the river underneath the train tracks”.  With every first intense relationship we all remember the formative moments, but Toledo also details the mundane (“get more groceries”) as the song moves to Part II where he also introduces his boyfriend to his mother for the first time where the song still retains the spit-out scream of the word “brother”.  The song bursts forth in Part III with an Eddie Cochran-like ‘Nervous Breakdown’ guitar lick becoming more prominent and Toledo dreaming of his boyfriend being dead if he can’t have him - such is the way with young love. 

‘Stop Smoking (We Love You)’ becomes an acoustic strum of a Public Service Announcement, but really comes off as an attempt to change the one you love.  Toledo’s new found maturity emerges later on the rewritten ‘High to Death’ when he concedes “keep smoking, I love you” and owns up in the first person.  The chiming guitars and tight harmonies in the choruses of ‘Sober to Death’, bely the fraying lyrics - “we were wrecks before we crashed into each other”.  The resignation in Toledo’s voice during the endless loop of “don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more” hits home and is particularly sad.  This song ends up being another beneficiary of the revamp and stands out.  ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’ almost has a synth pop sheen about it with Toledo gutting the Mary Shelley references in favor of taking stock of himself which borders on the self-indulgent.

Even the diehard fans of the original version of the album would be hard pressed to claim that  ‘Cute Thing’ is not a major sonic upgrade.  Dan Bejar and John Entwistle are unceremoniously dumped in favor of Frank Ocean and James Brown in the lyrics, though a ‘Baba O’Riley’ keyboard loop follows the change-out in consolation.  If Toledo ever ends up with the answered prayer of James Brown’s stage presence any doubts over God’s existence should be put to rest.  But it’s really in ‘Famous Prophets (Minds)’ where the seismic shift of perspective from seven years prior takes place and Toledo lets his ex off the hook. The repetition and power of the line “we gotta go back” still persists, but ultimately all is forgiven as Toledo shambles forward and cleverly ties in the 1 Corinthians references and rolls away the stone even if the lyrics say otherwise.  The piano chords also provide a higher level of gravity compared to the keyboards of the original (it’s hard to fit those pianos into a dorm room).  The closing track bookends with the opener, a Brian Wilson influenced ballad, as the relationship becomes a sentient metaphor and walks off into the sun as a remembered thing unto itself.

It has to be tough to go back and reimagine something that had to be so raw at the time it was originally composed.  By all accounts, Toledo spent countless hours of studio time laboring with his current bandmates, but primarily on his own.  If Twin Fantasy v1 was important to you it’s hard to dismiss that it was more important to its creator.  If Toledo was compelled to make v2 his definitive version, I put myself in his camp and feel this is the ultimate take on it.  There is no less scruffy power and emotion here, it’s just put on a higher plane of understanding which is never a bad thing.  If anything the passage of time does paint things with an almost pensive nostalgia that tugs at the heartstrings more than the original.  Since Toledo took out the Old Testament references, using lines from a Josh Ritter song decidedly sums things up here:  “battered hull and broken hardships, Leviathan and lonely”.  The enormity of Toledo’s reimagined effort and sincerity here is a beast that you can tell is hard to bear, but bear it he does.             

 

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