ALBUM REVIEW: the newest release from indie giants car seat headrest, "making a door less open"
On May 1, Car Seat Headrest returned with the release of their twelfth studio album, Making a Door Less Open, and the first batch of new music they’ve put out in four years. Along with the release comes the introduction of Trait, frontman Will Toledo’s gas-mask-wearing alter ego that dominates the visuals in the videos for both “Martin” and “Hollywood.” The album’s genre is difficult to nail down. There are definitely a lot of electronic elements involved, much more than previous Car Seat Headrest albums, but they manage to keep ahold of their familiar indie rock sound. On the band’s official website, in a piece titled, “Newness And Strangeness,” Toledo writes, “The songs contain elements of EDM, hip hop, futurism, doo-wop, soul, and of course rock and roll. But underneath all these things I think these may be folk songs, because they can be played and sung in many different ways, and they’re about things that are important to a lot of people: anger with society, sickness, loneliness, love…the way this album plays out is just our own interpretation of the tracks, with Andrew, Ethan and I forming a sort of choir of contrasting natures.”
Toledo recorded multiple versions of the record with synthesizers and a traditional rock set up, combined them, and ultimately released multiple versions of the tracklisting that differ from digital to CD to vinyl. However, all the tracklists kick off with “Weightlifters,” a song that sets the tone for the rest of the album by letting a beat steadily build as a synth drones on. Toledo’s vocals come in at almost two minutes into the song, singing, “‘Cause I believe / That thoughts can change my body / It’s all on me.” It’s a perfect introduction to the blend of the Car Seat Headrest we’ve come to know with this new electronic sound that this record brings. “Can’t Cool Me Down” follows. As the first single released off of Making a Door Less Open back in February, it leans toward the more experimental end, and personally, I think it’s successful. We take a step back with the next track (on the digital version) though, and “Deadlines (Hostile)” leads us back into a sound reminiscent of past albums, while Toledo gives us a chorus that is just too grunge rock good. “Hollywood” keeps the rock and roll flowing. The first verse reminds me a bit of (a heavier version of) Teens of Denial’s “Fill in the Blank,” but an aggressive chorus yanks us out, crying, “Hollywood makes me wanna puke!” Pivoting, “Hymn - Remix” dives fully into the EDM influences Toledo warned us about, as its title would suggest. I was honestly surprised by how well this track worked here. I’m not super into EDM, but this song feels necessary for this space. It makes sense. Guitars flow in next, and “Martin,” the second single, arrives. I love this song. It feels fun and a lot lighter than everything we’ve heard thus far. There’s even a trumpet toward the end! “Deadlines (Thoughtful)” and “Life Worth Missing” are more songs that lean on electronic elements, although the latter ends by transitioning into more of a classic Car Seat Headrest triumphant closing. “What’s With You Lately” is a sort of interlude among the madness. Hitting only about a minute and a half long, it’s a slower, melancholy acoustic tune. Guitarist Ethan Ives sings the lead vocals on this one, and it’s a song unlike any other on the record. It’s followed by possibly my favorite track, “There Must Be Blood,” is a seven minute head bobbing meditation on greater meaning. Toledo’s vocals are quiet and dreamy, and the breezy guitars are smooth and relaxed. The album finally closes with “Famous,” a track that pulls together the record’s themes of experimentation and genre-bending. Across the entirety of Making a Door Less Open, Car Seat Headrest allows for their influences of rock and roll and EDM to battle it out, and ultimately, both blend together to create a new sound that only Car Seat Headrest has perfected.