Car Seat Headrest is a predictable rock star for 2016. His music bleeds indie rock with rough vocals complementing chugging guitars and full instrumentation finding a sort of ironic place in the overall haphazardly produced sonic landscape. Each of his tunes take a small idea and build from beginning to end with some tracks becoming near-“bohemian rhapsody” sized endeavors. As a whole, the record does not appeal to me a whole lot. The songwriting feels extremely predictable with distorted guitars playing mind-numbing melodies as Will Toledo attempts a punk rock vocal approach. Even though certain songs incorporate horns and drawn out instrumental developments, the album feels very long and by the end overly predictable with every song ending in the same relative place. Also, the instrumentals don’t seem to match Toledo’s screaming vocals sounding like very typical rock and roll grooves rather than punk rock tunes on the edge of destruction.
“Fill in the Blank” quickly indicates where the album is going. A distorted guitar emerges with a Foo Fighters-esque melody already suggesting angst before the pounding drums emerge to complement Toledo’s deliberate vocal delivery. The end of the song culminates in a very loud place with multiple vocal tracks and chugging guitars rounding out the good old fashioned rock tune. This track is followed by the slightly more elusive “Vincent” whose playful opening guitar idea serves as a jumping point for a song intended to build for nearly eight minutes that reaches its maximum threshold about two minutes early, by the end sounding extremely overbearing. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a clear power ballad that serves as the album’s centerpiece. Here the song fades during each chorus to leave room for Toledo to offer a vocal melody similar to that of “All These Things that I’ve Done” by the Killers, again incorporating chugging guitars and somewhat corny lyricism: “We are not a proud race/it’s not a race at all” (seriously?). Other dubious highlights include the clichéd dissection of clichés on “1937 State Park,” the guitar interlude straight out of 2005 on “Unforgiving Girl,” and the high school brass band intro to “Cosmic Hero.”
The vocal delivery of the project is overall quite off-putting. Although “rough around the edges” rock can work very well in certain settings, the instrumentals do not match the risks taken by Toledo’s vocalizations. Overall the songs sound like hum-drum attempts at edgy rock by studio musicians far past their prime, making Toledo’s gut wrenching screams sound completely out of place. On “Just What I Needed/Not Just What I Needed,” Toledo creates a quasi-tribute track to a famous Cars song about as straightforward as the title. After singing the first two lines of the song in his normal style, Toledo takes a step back and screams out the lines “I know when I’m being catered too/I will not settle for the lowest common denominator.” With the typical Cars-styled guitar sounds in the background this comes across very strangely and choices like this come throughout the album’s track-list. There’s also a strange apathy that Toledo constantly puts out, resulting in a sort of arrogance. It is almost as if Toledo thinks he is above the music he is writing, again not matching up with the over-arching instrumental aesthetic.
This album was not good for me, but it must be mentioned that there is a certain consistency to it. Each song fits into a certain sound with various ideas coming out as the album presses forward. If a listener is entertained by the first track they would probably enjoy the whole experience. That said, the album’s basic attempt at rock takes very few real risks with Will Toledo’s obnoxious vocal take sounding out of place amongst his corny chugging guitars and mind-numbing lyrics.
I don’t think this project is good. 3/10