Coronavirus came for our spring (fall? Shit.) semester and like manna from a shoegazing god, alternative music rained from the heavens to fill our shelter-in-place malaise. Fiona Apple delivered unyoked wit and optical allusion instrumentals on FTBC, check. The perpetually prodigalling prodigal son’s return with “Eternal Atake,” check (I’ve never actually listened to Lil Uzi—I just speak for the trees). Lunar Vacation, the band that I lost my indie show virginity to on a school night in Atlanta 2016, released their debut album, check.
My first album review in over a year, check. Siri, show me results for synonyms of synth, check. Affirm. Notarize.
Car Seat Headrest, a less-than-by-the-book rock group best known for their intersectional study of killer whales and drunk drivers, released their ninth record, “Making a Door Less Open,” (MDLO) this May. Over the 2010s, the group displayed a penchant for versatility with quirky, compelling narrative lyrics, stripped down covers of songs like Frank Ocean’s “Ivy” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Goin’ Down,” and, honestly, good vibes. On “Making A Door Less Open,” that versatility really breaks through, and tonally adventurous vibes expound.
Listening to the single, “Can’t Cool Me Down,” I caught myself dancing on day 49 in my quarantine fit (boxers and a shirt that is clean because I last wore it before I got a driver’s license). “Oooooh water on my (questionable) breath (can’t cool me down).” It just makes you pump your appendages awkwardly.
And yes I know that I’m overusing parentheses but indie bands long ago jumped the shark on quirky grammar. Oddly capitalized letters, parentheses and s p a c e d out titles are cool now and I feel like I’m missing out. The implicit critique of aesthetics. I think I learned about it in a Zoom call.
Will Toledo, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, is a compelling writer of rock-opera-esque ballads of disgruntled youth. The awkward, open-to-experimenting-with-drugs teenagers he writes
into your heart are more apocryphal than benign. On “MDLO,” off-the-dome, unrestrained songwriting is back, but a bit more bearish. His shoestring congruency reaches peak Dylan on “Deadlines (Hostile)” where Toledo yells and reminds us this is no time for social courtesies. “Deadlines’’ espouses the same disdain I have for deadlines (not Misc deadlines tho). It’s my favorite song on the record. Its verses groove with an in-the-pocket feel and then explode with an impassioned and melodic rock chorus. The cap of the chorus, “That was really a mistake last night,” is vintage Toledo, saying everything he needs to with an unassuming refrain.
I’m not really sure what character Toledo is playing on “(Hollywood).” It sounds like he wrote down some media studies critiques while really high and rather than whisper them softly over an acoustic fingerpicking rhythm he screams into a microphone blistering with distortion maybe derived from an IED.
The song “Hymn (Remix)” only exists to foil the next song, “Martin,” which starts with a smooth acoustic riff before leading into a boring riff. I don’t know who is the good guy in this internal debate on the merits of electronic rock versus “I like this because it sounds familiar” analog rock that was resuscitated via the Strokes,then smothered with a pillow by none other than the Strokes.
I like the first few seconds of “What’s With You Lately.” Toledo’s droning voice is a perfect harmony to the bassy acoustic guitar. It’s a short bluesy piece that sounds nothing like anything else Car Seat Headrest has done before. The song “Deadlines (thoughtful)” shows (not tells) that this album was masterfully produced. The synth saturated bassline oscillates on gigantic wavelengths like a masochistic bungee jumper.
You can skip the last three songs on the album. Despite sounding like they were supposed to be some experimental, effusive statement, they don’t. This is especially true for the last track “Famous” where Toledo repeats “please let someone care about this” over and over again. At 7 and a half minutes long, “There Must be More Than Blood” probably wasn’t worth the time it took to produce. Damn, that’s kinda harsh. Let me redeem myself with a tender concluding sentiment.
But considering everything else, this al- bum should be a success, if only on Vassar’s campus (if only we return in the fall). The songwriting is quirky, the hooks are catchy, the instrumentation is a little out-there and new-wave. What’s not to like? If I’m pulling away the veneer for a second it is really just a cool, fun album with plenty of song to boogie to. VCSS, I hope that you’re reading this review.
Review of this review: I thought you hated Pitchfork? Response: only when it’s convenient.