Review: Making a Door Less Open, Car Seat Headrest (2020)
Will Toledo began Car Seat Headrest as a solo lo-fi project, recording mainly from his car in a Target parking lot. After releasing a collection of 11 albums over 2010-2016 and re-releasing the critically acclaimed Twin Fantasy, Making a Door Less Open marks Toledo’s first original release in 4 years since Teens of Denial, whose commercial success arguably made Car Seat a household name. The album’s personal, dark, and rambling lyrics heavily associated Toledo to Car Seat’s DIY Bandcamp-rooted identity.
Unlike its predecessors, a new electronic sound accompanies a shift in Car Seat’s personality. The album’s first track, “Weightlifters” begins with 90 seconds of a binaural synth and speaks to a mentally rooted desire for physical improvement (“I should start lifting weights… it dawned on me, your body can change your mind”). “Can’t Cool Me Down,” an indie-pop Half Moon Run-esque plea towards whoever Toledo is depending on for support, paints death-bed imageries which are most likely related to the many illnesses Toledo struggled with while writing this album. He also alludes to his fear of schizophrenia which he previously outlined in Twin Fantasy’s “Beach Life-In-Death.”
As someone who religiously listens to albums for the first time in order and becomes genuinely upset at friends who don’t follow suit (they are ruining the artist’s creative vision!), I was especially surprised to learn that, as of the album’s third track, the order, mixing, or even lyrical content of certain songs changes depending on the album’s format, be it on a streaming platform, vinyl, or CD. For instance, the song “Deadlines” exists as three versions, none of which are lyrically or melodically similar. Toledo states in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the album’s heterogeneity across its physical formats reflects “different points in the creative process of the record.”
The album takes a brief acoustic turn in “What’s With You Lately,” where lead guitarist Ethan Ives takes lead vocals away from Toledo for the first time in Car Seat’s entire discography. The song acts as a well-purposed breather before the last third of the album. One of my personal lyrical favorites of this album is “There Must Be More Than Blood.” The song is written from the perspective of an outsider living in a small town who yearns for an escape after being rejected by their family. This contrasts with an earlier song, “Hollywood,” which criticizes the same kind of place one might fantasize escaping to. The streaming version of the album ends with “Famous,” where Toledo continuously demands listeners to “change [their] mind” and asks them repeatedly: “did you change your mind?” Accompanied by a rather dissonant synth, the question is left unanswered and the album ends on an uneasy note.
I consider Twin Fantasy to be one of the best written albums I’ve ever listened to. It beautifully depicts the notion of obsessive infatuation and projecting love onto the idea of someone as opposed to who they truly are. Though this level of obsession might seem creepy, the wit of Toledo’s lyrics makes the album a dark comedy and relatable, despite his very niche experience with an unidentified man whom he is directly addressing. In Making a Door Less Open, Toledo uses this same wit to discuss physicality. The album itself exists in three physical formats, each different from one another. Toledo’s argument, however, is unclear: depending on the song, his stance on physicality differs. He both seeks improvement and doesn’t. He both wants to escape but fears his end destination. Nonetheless, an overarching theme of exhaustion across various physical human states, be it location, mentality, or health, is extremely intriguing and makes the album a fully developed body of work.