An Honest Opinion Regarding Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

by Christian Ortmann

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Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest is essentially the final boss of lo-fi garage rock self-released on Bandcamp. The original album released in 2011 was the triumph of a nineteen-year-old college student named Will Toledo that has since built an occult following with religious fervor almost entirely on the Internet. There is an overreaching personal lore that surrounds Toledo and the album itself due to the balance of lyrics that are obscure and autobiographical positioned against the poetic and enigmatic. Such a marriage allows listeners to relate to Toledo directly while filling in blanks with their own experiences. “It should be called ‘antidepression’ / As a friend of mine suggested / Because it’s not the sadness that hurts you / It’s the brains reaction against it.” Twin Fantasy laments youth malaise with Toledo as our avatar, navigating an unforgiving world of, in the broadest strokes, self-image, mental health, and sexual identity.

Today, the year is 2018, and a full band, major label, and higher-fidelity recording equipment back Will Toledo. With this new hi-tech arsenal, Car Seat Headrest has released a contemporary interpretation of the album complete with proper promotion and mass-produced physical copies. I looked forward to the new Twin Fantasy like it marked the beginning of the rest of my life. In fact, I do not think I could love a human baby as much as I love Twin Fantasy. I did not want to set my expectations too high but I fear I might have. So I got my first taste of the upcoming release when Beach Life-In-Death was surprise dropped on Spotify last year. The twelve-minute opus became thirteen and Toledo screams his iconic inquiry “do you have something against dogs?” for twice as long in the new version. People counted. It was a big deal. Don’t you wish your favorite song were longer sometimes? What was not to love? The first official single, however, was Nervous Young Inhumans. My least favorite song on Twin Fantasy cuts out my qualms entirely and I was left instead with a three-minute shot of adrenaline that only heightened by expectations for an exciting new sonic direction. Cute Thing came next. Along with it came a second allusion to R&B titan Frank Ocean. Besides that tweaked lyric, it was more of the same but in the best way imaginable. Finally, there was My Boy (Twin Fantasy) a relatively innocuous intro track not worth over scrutinizing. So far so good I thought, but many questions would remain unanswered until the release of the full album.

 It would not be until the fourth track of my ceremonial first experience that I really felt obligated to turn my ears on to listen with much intent. That was for Sober to Death, a song I have a particular fondness for. It was the rabbit hole that I fell down at terminal velocity about two years ago that turned Car Seat Headrest into my favorite band seemingly overnight after I saw an acoustic rendition for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. The personality of the track that made it stand out in the original context of the album seemed to get washed over and it fades back in with the rest of the album like a futile police line-up. This is some kind of travesty. The tangible pain in Toledo’s voice and guitar played into the affect of the original so perfectly and it sounds like it was lost somewhere in the mix this time around.  I understand the need for uniform cohesion in the album, but some tracks just deserve a little more TLC. The new Sober to Death feels just a bit neglected and it is a shame.

The album version of Nervous Young Inhumans stretches out past five minutes. The reason it was my least favorite on the original was because of this awkward meta-diatribe in which Toledo justifies his decision to use the made-up word ‘galvanistic’ previously in the song. Lucky for me, the new Twin Fantasy is chock full of unnecessary spoken word interludes and vocal samples that bookend many of the tracks, but more on that later. With that being said, Bodys sounds completely out of left field. The intro sounds like someone tried to split a noise particle. Soon we are reacquainted with the disgustingly simple guitar line and drum beat that defines this dance anthem for the sexually repressed basement teens.

The last three tracks never quite got the time and attention that the rest of the album received from me. In spite of this, I would argue that they make up the most beautiful portion of the album. The grating lo-fi aggression that pervades from Beach Life-In-Death to Cute Thing subsides for something more placid and ethereal. High to Death is atmospheric and stunning. Famous Prophets (Stars) takes the throne as Car Seat’s longest song to date, reaching past a daunting sixteen minutes. This includes more layered verses and a distinct vocal harmony from the guitarist, Ethan Ives, which is a pleasure to hear. Given the track is now more than fifty percent longer than the original, there is much more room to develop the slow brooding into a dramatic crescendo filled with multiple parts with a few callbacks to their own lyrics. The extended stretch of isolated piano is a welcome change of pace but it always comes back to a grand explosion reminiscent of a rock opera finale before dissipating out once again. Twin Fantasy (Those Boys) lingers for a bit longer than needed, attributed to more looping lyrics that build up and play out, and another spoken word portion in the middle. I am really over those at this point. Toledo sounds like he is whispering directly into my ear in a disturbing, lips-to-the-mic ASMR fashion.

Track for track, the new Twin Fantasy is an improvement on almost all fronts. Sure there are some stylistic choices I do not agree with but the integrity of the project is not compromised. So why does this album leave me feeling empty inside when I reach its conclusion over and over? I stand for everything it represents, I am proud of the Car Seat boys for making it to a place where they can breath life into the very projects that built their reputation from a dorm room many years ago. Will Toledo and company have come so far in a couple years. The fact is that both of the Twin Fantasy’s are not in competition with one another, and both have every right to exist. I just wish the new Twin Fantasy did not feel so contrived at some points. As if the changes beyond the lyrics were made out of necessity and not the same passion that drove Toledo when he was at his most prolific mad genius.

Listen to the full record below, out now on Matador Records.

Chris DeFlitch