Car Seat Headrest turn self-doubt, remorse, and regret into a cathartic experience on their rich and expansive new album, ‘Making a Door Less Open’.
Calling Will Toledo, the mastermind behind Car Seat Headrest, prolific would be an understatement. His discography is as long as, if not more extensive than, bands more than twice his 27 years of age. When he’s not writing and recording songs for a record, he’s producing them. Now Toledo along with his co-collaborator and co-conspirator Andrew Katz, who plays drums in CSH and is one-half of the electronic duo 1 Trait Danger; guitarist Ethan Ives, and bassist Seth Dalby have entered the “midlife” phase that bands before them encountered with being in the business for a decade. Some may call it a crossroads while others may see this as an opportunity to evolve. For Car Seat Headrest, they chose the latter and expertly maneuver through this crisis stage on Making a Door Less Open.
The album is a microcosm of Toledo’s career and life to date. Consequently, Making a Door Less Open can feel turbulent, as the record moves between electronic, electro-rock, funk, and, of course, indie rock. Beyond the music, the reclusive Toledo offers a glimpse of his mind and soul, sharing stories of self-doubt, remorse, and even regret. When the synthetic and humanity converge, the varied approach becomes understood because Toledo’s story also exists within the noise.
Opener “Weightlifters” sets the stage for the entire record. Through a whirling, electro-rock opus, Toledo tries to find hope within his own helplessness. He casually utters, “‘Cause I believe / That thoughts can change your body”. Reassurances from a loved one are sought on the slow-building, dance-rock euphoria of “Deadlines (Hostile)“, which echoes Beck, and the Hot Chip-esque “Deadlines (Thoughtful)”. As cool as the former is, Toledo’s voice reaps of desperation, as he asks, “Am I ever, ever on your mind?” He similarly seeks answers on the quirky, indietronic tune, “Famous”, as he pleads for “somebody to care about this” .
No matter where he turns, Toledo seems to be imprisoned by someone or something. The cool, electro-funk of “Can’t Cool Me Down” sees Toledo consumed by an illness that causes him to dream like a schizophrenic. Expectations created by “Hollywood” are his and everyone’s cell. Through the gritty indie-rock approach, Toledo and Ives alternate on lead vocals. Toledo’s delivery is calm and nonchalant. Every word from Ives, on the other hand, is biting and fierce, resembling the assertive tone of Fucked Up’s Damien Abraham. Despite the contrasting styles, the two use Hollywood to represent the ills affecting American life. Sex, drugs, lies, violence, greed – they permeate anywhere.
Optimism and hope are sprinkled throughout Making a Door Less Open. The delicate synth-pop ballad, “Life Worth Missing”, which echoes Operators, is a wave goodbye to what was and the welcoming of what could be. On the upbeat jangle-rocker “Martin”, the song centers on the influence of one person on another. Toledo’s lyrics are heartwarming and endearing:
“Just when I think I’m gone
You change the track I’m on
Just when I think I’m done
You burn me up before the dawn”
Car Seat Headrest reach the peak of their artistry with the unforgettable, sobering epic, “There Must Be More Than Blood”. The song slowly burns, but it never explodes. There’s no fiery guitar solo nor massive crescendo. Instead, the quartet rely on subtlety and calmness to evoke a range of emotions. Toledo’s words elicit feelings of regret, remorse, reflection, forgiveness, community, unity, friendship, and family.
“There must be more than blood
That holds us together
There must be more than wind
That takes us away
There must be more than tears
When they pull back the curtain
Of this much I am certain”
Certainly, there must be much more that brings us all together, and a record like Making a Door Less Open could be the answer. It shows us that diversity should be celebrated, our concerns should be shared, and everyone’s voice should be heard. After all, we’re all in this together. We just need to be willing to step through the slightly ajar door to find out.
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