Punching Upwards At A Particularly Bland Windmill
I know I’m too old to get mad about whatever sentient collection of Taco Bell Feed-The-Beat gift cards mumbled their way into the limelight this month. Being mad is a young man’s game, and I am neither young nor willing to play games anymore. Besides, I spend so much of my time now lying quietly on the rug trying to remember what it was like to have ambitions that I just can’t keep up with what the kids are stoked about (do they still like Mac Demarco? Is he “bad” now? See?). I like it this way, though. It is a quiet, peaceful life and I don’t want to have to leave it but thanks to Car Seat Headrest, I’ve got to go all Eastwood in Unforgiven, or Shrek (in Shrek) now. Like Jordan said in ’95, I’m back, now get out of my swamp. (Sam, lose this joke — Ed)
For those unfamiliar — to whom this article will be incredibly, unbelievably meaningless — Car Seat Headrest is the indie-rock project of Virginia/Seattle/Tumblr based songwriter Will Toledo. They are an annoyingly persistent Last.fm recommendation that somehow landed a deal with Matador. Their music isn’t bad so much as it is thoroughly bland & lifeless to the extent it becomes criminal. Their most successful moments rely entirely on pastiche (more on this later). If you walk into any house show in America with a handful of rocks, by the second or third throw you’ll have hit a boy with a Bandcamp that sounds exactly like them. It is unbelievable that such a storied indie-label would see in them a band deserving of their marketing budget & late night talk show connections. (Sam, not only will everyone miss the sarcasm here, you’re also digging your own grave — Ed)
All of this on it’s own would not be nearly enough for me to give a shit, let alone write the shit down on paper, however, Toledo has now begun giving the kind of contentious, faux-controversial interviews we all turned against Dan Bejar over. (I guess — Ed) Unfortunately, even these fall flat, lacking even a moment of true contentious wonder. Much like his music & lyrics, Toledo’s public persona exists in between dull platitudes and esoteric name-dropping. This consistent lack of personality might actually be the most sincere thing about him & his band.
Before writing any of this down, I decided to listen to Car Seat Headrest’s most recent record, ‘Teens of Denial’ from front to back again. Wanting to be fair, I tried to reason that perhaps I had only disliked the record so much because of some special circumstance — a bad day, the wrong timing, Mercury & Retrograde — maybe even some kind of subconscious jealousy. The latter seemed reasonable in theory — after all, it’d be easy to draw certain parallels between his career and (what is left of) mine. So, with nothing better to do, I got high as hell and lay down on the floor and let the music flow over me like a big-ass waterfall, or something similarly stupid, I don’t know. After a merciless few hours, I was able to say confidently that there was no special circumstance through which I disliked the record. It is simply very, very, very dull.
* * *
There are three bands I see referenced most frequently when critics are discussing or reviewing Car Seat Headrest. I want to try, in as few words as possible, to explain exactly why each comparison is wrong.
Pavement: Pavement’s music sticks with you because Stephen Malkmus hollered all of his garbled nonsense with enough conviction that lines like “What about the voice of Geddy Lee, How did it get so high?” became not just memorable but shockingly catchy. Not to mention the man nailed every note he sang, even the bad ones. Pavement had hooks. Toledo’s music has no hooks.
Guided By Voices: Pollard was an innovator, even if it was purely by accident. Car Seat Headrest not only fails to reinvent the wheel, they somehow make it roll shittier. I don’t think I’ve wanted to listen to The Who since I was eleven, but hearing Pollard try to convince us he’s Roger Daltrey has a certain charm. Hearing Toledo try to channel Pollard parroting Daltrey is like photocopying Xerox Art.
The Lemonheads: As for The Lemonheads, I don’t buy the myth that suffering makes better art, but it’s a known fact that smoking crack at least makes you a more interesting. public figure. I don’t know if Will Toledo has ever smoked rock, but his music & interviews certainly signal “I have never smoked rock”, which — good for him, definitely — but Dando was, at the very least, interesting.
* * *
To try and recover from my listening experience, I started talking to my friend Erik about what I was doing, and we went back and forth roasting Car Seat Headrest for a while. With their permission, I’ve cleaned up & compiled our favorite moments.
Car Seat Headrest — Because the punks might be taking acid but the tumblr-shut-ins just got really into the Dynosaur Jr. catalogue, I guess.
Car Seat Headrest— Like Soylent, but for your ears.
Car Seat Headrest— Because there’s gotta be some group of internet teens who are really into Seroquel now instead of Xanax.
Car Seat Headrest –The ‘I have an associates degree, you know, so one day I can go back to college and become an English teacher, or whatever’ of guitar rock.
Car Seat Headrest — Perfect if you have trypophobia, but like, for melody.
Car Seat Headrest— Because all the other hyper-opinionated, ego-obsessed, self-aggrandizing artists out there make albums that are just a little too interesting.
If Mac Demarco is the “Family Guy” of contemporary guitar rock, Car Seat Headrest is “The Cleveland Show”.
Have you ever wished more music could make you feel the same way dogs feel when their owners go out grocery shopping and leave NPR running in an attempt to keep them calm?
Have you ever longed for the musical equivalent of ‘falling asleep to David Letterman on a really low volume’?
Are Tiny Desk Concerts becoming little too ‘twee’ for you?
Maybe this’ll become like, a Deadhead scenario but for kids on Paxil.
It’s like you can hear him forgetting his own songs as he’s recording them.
Not good enough to be ‘The Missionary Position of Indie Rock*’, Car Seat Headrest instead manages to be the Over-The-Jeans-Handjob of it.
It’s like every single time Jim makes an infuriating “what, me?” face at the camera on The Office, in music form.
It’s like you can literally hear his songs being bullied by better songs.
The “Michelob Ultra” of indie-rock.
It sounds like some kind of Tim & Eric Indie-rock sketch that got scrapped because it wasn’t funny.
Alternately, it sounds like a Tim & Eric sketch that just… never stopped.
Maybe they are this bad on purpose. Maybe somewhere out there among the Bard Freshman Class of 2017 there are KGB Sleeper Agents waiting to activate when they hear the line “You have no right to be depressed”.
Hell, maybe Toledo is actually 39 and the KGB just has a hell of a makeup department.
Does the KGB still exist?
Should I even be making this joke in Trump’s America?
Car Seat Headrest — The Samsung Galaxy 7 of Indie Bands.
Car Seat Headrest — So bad we haven’t even made fun of the name yet.
Car Seat Headrest — like the Replicant’s memories in Blade Runner, but for Music.
* * *
I want to acknowledge fully that this is a Bad Career Move, but we both seem fully committed to having Bad Careers, as well as talking cash shit about our contemporaries, so fuck it. Besides, he’s signed to Matador and though I’m too lazy to Soundscan his record, I’m going to assume it’s outsold mine simply based on the press he gets. We will therefore consider this all “punching up”.
*That’s definitely The Strokes