Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

by John Western

"Both versions of Twin Fantasy deserve to go down as two of the greatest indie rock records of all time."

You can’t blame Car Seat Headrest frontman/creator Will Toledo for wanting to re-record his Bandcamp classic Twin Fantasy. Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror), as it has now been coined to avoid confusion, was recorded in 2011 on Garage Band with a USB guitar plug-in and a laptop mic, whilst Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) was recorded with a full studio at the band’s disposal. Car Seat Headrest signed to Matador in 2015, with whom they released a compilation album, Teens of Style, made up of some of Toledo’s early Bandcamp material. This was followed in 2016 by their first album of brand new music with the label, Teens of Denial, which was released to critical acclaim and gained the band a new legion of fans. Now Car Seat Headrest are releasing their third record with Matador, a complete re-recording of Twin Fantasy.

The record opens with My Boy (Twin Fantasy), a simple track which hasn’t changed all that much from its Mirror to Mirror counterpart, before the band launch into the thirteen-minute opus that is Beach Life in Death, the first single released from Face to Face and the introduction to the album’s themes. The track is one of a many on the album where the climaxes reach new heights, assisted by the more intricate and dense instrumentation working in a studio allows, as the narrator desperately tries to find some feeling of belonging as Toledo sings “Oh please let me join your cult/I’ll paint my face in your colours”. The narrator seems to find it in their “capital ‘O’ significant Other” in Sober to Death, as Will belts lyrics well beyond the years of a 19-year-old: “We were wrecks before we crashed into each other”. Toledo said in a recent interview with Peyton Thomas that if he could leave any song off of the record, it would be this one, calling it “kind of toxic”. However, it’s a fan favourite and one of the more immediately memorable moments on the record.

The second single, Nervous Young Inhumans, has no right not to become an indie classic. Its accompanying video was Toledo’s directorial debut, and the simple guitar riff of the original is replaced by Hot-Fuss-era The Killers-esque synths. Here occurs one of a few instances on the record where lyrics which could have been easily missed amongst the instrumentation on Mirror to Mirror are brought to the forefront, as Toledo sings the touching “Most of the time that I use the word you/Well you know that I’m mostly singing about you”. The song concludes with a new monologue, with Toledo replacing the old one because he discovered that “galvanistic” isn’t a real word. Toledo ends the track by stating “Isn’t this where…”, a nod to Pink Floyd, who he has said were a huge influence on the album. On Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, “Isn’t this where we came in?” connects final track, Outside the Wall, to opening track In the Flesh?, symbolising the cyclic nature of the record’s story, whilst here it illustrates the mirroring of Twin Fantasy’s front and back halves.

Completing the central trio of danceable tracks are Bodys, which has been given an LCD Soundsystem makeover, and Cute Thing. Towards the end of Cute Thing Will reimagines the lyrics to There Might Be Giants’ Ana Ng, which is now one of the most powerful and anthemic moments on the record, whilst on Mirror to Mirror it was somewhat lost in the mix.

The final three tracks are the pinnacle of the record, though. High to Death, is the song that benefits the most from the re-recording, providing the track a more psychedelic feel. Call-backs and motifs tie the record together – here Toledo sings a variation of Stop Smoking (We Love You), altering the lyrics to “Keep smoking, I still love you”, a sign of the maturity acquired over the course of the album. The track is another of many to utilise samples and spoken word passages, with heart-breaking cries of “Let me out William”, taken from the short film All Summer in a Day, as the significant other of the story attempts to escape from the narrator’s fantasy. The song ends with a monologue discussing The Lady by Hojin “Stella” Jung (who also created the artwork for the Beach Life in Death single), which acts as a metaphor for how Will feels about Mirror to Mirror – “I love her, at least I did, but now I feel lost and I’m not sure of what to think or feel most of the time”.

Famous Prophets (Stars) is Car Seat Headrest at the peak of their powers. Although 16 minutes in length, it never drags, gradually shifting and building towards its epic climax. The additional piano section is delicate and strikingly beautiful, and you can almost hear Toledo’s pain as he sings “What happened to you?”. The song continues to build with a Bible passage and hi-hat stutters until the band eventually erupt into an interpolation of Will’s unfinished gem, Pain Star, from Bandcamp album Disjecta Membra. The track is far and away the greatest thing Car Seat Headrest have put on record, the sheer emotional weight of its conclusion and the accompanying Bible passage should bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened listener.

The closer is Twin Fantasy (Those Boys) which shares the same opening lyrics as the first track of Teens of Style, the first album in this initial Matador trilogy: “I haven’t looked at the Sun for so long/I’d forgotten how much it hurt to”, as the narrator leaves the fantasy and re-enters reality. Toledo concludes with the line “When I come back you’ll still be here”, a poignant ending to a truly excellent album.

While many may say that the re-recording removes some of the intimacy and charming imperfections of the original, Face to Face is the grand and epic statement that Toledo intended to create all along. However, both versions of Twin Fantasy deserve to go down as two of the greatest indie rock records of all time.

Picks:

Bodys, High to Death, Famous Prophets (Stars)

Rating: 5/5