Album Review: Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open

Where to begin… the new record by Car Seat Headrest has been slowly marinating for almost five years… A half-decade gestation period could warrant an investigation into Will Toledo’s creative approach, but this would be pointless as the record comes with a manifesto written by his alter-ego Trait. You can read it here. For those familiar with Toledo’s formerly prolific output, this change in approach immediately marks out Making a Door Less Open as a pretty extraordinary experience. We may therefore want to compare this record to previous releases and in particular his 2016 label debut Teens of Denial, but this is also a pretty redundant process. If 2018’s Twin Fantasy was a creative look in to the rearview mirror for Toledo then Making a Door Less Open is a monumental look into the future; a future where creating, distributing and consuming music is changing, a future which, under the current circumstances, must look pretty unpredictable for musicians like Will Toledo. This ultimately is exactly what MaDLO is. Unpredictable. Challenging. Inspiring.

What we do know about this mercurial recording is that Toledo wanted to move away from a recognisable narrative, instead instilling each song with a distinctive personality all of its own. The impact of this is may not be immediate, but if you allow it to, this record will carefully, almost unwittingly seduce you into believing that this is how it has always been.

Opener ‘Weightlifters’ fuses 80s synth beds with confident Numan-esque vocals, immediately revealing the EDM blueprint that drummer Andrew Katz brings to the party. This continues on ‘Can’t Cool Me Down’ but it’s more withdrawn, replaced by a more contemporary, relaxed drift, a stream of consciousness with odd musical interludes, staccato synth inflections making the voices in your head appear more nightmarish, cartoon-like perhaps, but ultimately it’s a compelling dreamscape that we’re trapped in. You may not want to escape.

‘Hollywood’ shatters the illusion with Ethan Ives’ fuzzy, clattering guitar riff married to weary vocals enhanced by monstrous, appalling harmonies establishing a real sense of disconnection. The song certainly pulls no punches and captures the zeitgeist of the #metoo movement in its frenzied state. ‘There Must Be More Than Blood’ opens with an equally harsh, discordant electric guitar that tries to tear at the seams of what is ultimately a calm tapestry of a song and a more poised, affable Toledo forces the more destructive elements to retreat.

‘Hymn’ is a mid-point interlude reminding us to shut the fuck up and listen before ‘Deadlines’ and ‘Martin’ inject more recognisable dancefloor beats along with 90s indie tones to proceedings. It’s upbeat, angular, there’s an optimism on display. This is a jazzy, buoyant lo-fi adventure that keeps the peaks hidden, the turns unexpected and the rest breaks hasty. There’s a peculiar blink and you miss it acoustic soft rock ballad amidst all of this, camouflaged, almost in dissent to the rest of the record but any misgivings about this are forgiven with ‘Life Worth Missing’ and its epic mannerisms matched majestically by the distinguished synths which soar over the 80s feelgood movie aesthetics.

Melody, tone and vocals meld mellifluously to connect and emote and this wonderful experiment concludes with the nostalgic analogue brilliance of ‘Famous’, full of positive vibes amidst the weird robotic vocals and glitchy melody. Cacophonous, monstrous and mellifluous in equal parts, it serves to highlight the Frankenstein nature of this project; an unstable harmony exists in the compound, created out of an exhilarating collection of ingredients. In these weird existential times, here is a record that seems to have been made just for them.

Iain Fox

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