Car Seat Headrest – Making A Door Less Open Album Review

Matador – 2020

Indie sad-boy, teenage Americana project Car Seat Headrest led by singer-songwriter Will Toledo return after 2 years since 2018’s Twin Fantasy. A re-make and re-recording of an album originally released in 2011 which like previous album Teens Of Denial became critcally acclaimed and helped cement CSH as a founding father of modern indie-rock.

On Making A Door Less Open the crunchy guitars and elongated musings of past albums are often dropped in favour of a more experimental and synthetic sound, stretching the idea of what Car Seat Headrest can be to its very thinnest ends.

It would be unfair to say that this album doesn’t take risks. They come in an abundance, all crammed into its 47 minute run-time. A short album in comparison to previous albums, Twin Fantasy and Teens Of Denial both reaching over the hour mark. And although there are some highlighted moments and interesting takes on the traditional CSH sound, more often than not these ideas dissolve into a mess of unfinished and sometimes ugly soundscapes.

Opening track ‘Weightlifters’ starts with a long thin drone, slowly adding drum beats, piano hits and scatty guitar hits. It takes a while but the main verse of the song kicks in and sets a strong tone for the album. It’s got an interesting and diverse opening sound with its varied beats, evolving guitar riff and static bass line, letting you know that CSH are no longer just a one trick pony. The track even has a flair of The 1975 about it, more in instrumentation than vocals, and it won’t be the last time this happens.

‘Can’t Cool Me Down’ is where the album starts varying its sonic palette even more. Opening with sequenced chorus filled piano hits and a loose vocal harmony of “Can’t cool me down”. It slowly adds small layers of background samples and sounds to build up it to an interesting sonic landscape. But it then quickly transcends into spending the next 3 minutes wondering how many different instruments and samples it can get to play the same melody before annoying you, with each as jarring as the next. Starting with a children’s toy horn, the same that can be found on some 100 gecs tracks, except their use of it flows with the experimental nature of the song. Then to a shimmering synth, a synthesised guitar riff, an ambient pad and eventually an 80’s clavinova. It goes through so many changes whilst simultaneously going nowhere.

‘Hollywood’ and ‘Hymn -Remix’ have some of the ugliest moments on them. With ‘Hollywoods’ rap interludes that completely throws the tracks off its course from its otherwise punchy indie-centric riff. Its lyrics, although important have been said a million times, especially in this generic tone. “Sick of staring at the ads on the bus, Hollywood makes me wanna puke, Hollywood makes me want to”. And ‘Hymn – Remix’s’ off-key out of tune vocals, that although do add a distinct new sound to the band’s palette, end up coming off as jarring and harsh. And with the heavy wobbling bass in the background, there’s no comfort to fall back onto.

‘Deadlines (Thoughtful)’ is perhaps the worst offender for broadening their sound, without proper reason or cause to. It’s an anxiety fused techno, Dubstep-esque panic attack at the club that reminisces in the sample music from a Youtube Call Of Duty compilation circa 2010. Bands have every right to change their style, and choose a new sound that fits the songs they’ve created, I’m looking at you Tame Impala. But the problem with this track is its synth wave progression and erratic lead solo are so jarring and off the cuff it breaks you away from any enjoyment you may have had listening to this album. It ends with a weird ‘Skit’ where some voice in the studio yells “Shut Up!” over and over, and after a few listens I still can’t work out why this was added. To be edgy?

There are some more refined moment on the album like ‘Martin’ which takes the classic CSH sound and adds a spark of freshness to it with its bold chorus, relay of sound between acoustic and electric guitar and electronic infused middle section. And the track ‘There Must Be More Than Blood’, which although slowly marches through its paces with its pounding beat, still offers a more defined sound. Provoking elements of Radiohead in its early verse’s, it also offers more lyrical depth than seen on most of the album. “I could sleep all through the night, But I’ve seen the tides are rising, Where once there was a shore, I can still remember houses, Stripped to the floor”. Exploring ideas of isolation and not being able to fit in, it brings back that honesty and rawness we’ve all come to know and admire from Toledo.

The album does start to bring back a glint of hope about it, that perhaps not all is lost in the CSH camp. ‘Life Worth Living’ brings a more melancholy and sculpted sound to it. Bringing a groove back in and throwing in elements of MGMT with its hopeful and bold chorus passages. It’s a bit more reserved than the rest of its musical counterparts, but in this case it’s definitely needed.

The 1975 sound returns again on closer ‘Famous’. The interesting synthesiser passages and glitched out vocals that wouldn’t feel out of place on their ‘Brief Inquiry’ album. The problem with this track is it’s often thin soundscapes, and lazy vocals don’t feel like much of a powerful closer on an album thats been all about the risks. It fizzles out with a vocal seizure and leaves a lot more to be desired.

Perhaps this was Car Seat Headrest just trying to see how far they could take their sound. And boy did they take it far. But often at the expense of structural integrity to the song, with the end result collapsing in on itself. When the songs work, they really work, but sadly on this album, and a first for CSH, they come far and few between.

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