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Car Seat Headrest - Making A Door Less Open (Album Review)

Tuesday, 05 May 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Carlos Cruz

Will Toledo could be labelled a genius for the route he walked alone before building a band to flesh out his ideas as Car Seat Headrest. We all love an underdog, and we found one in this nerdy looking bedroom musician who happened to be making some of the best lo-fi, low key indie-rock around. It’s an endearing story.

Now, though, Car Seat Headrest have far outgrown those early years, and ‘Making A Door Less Open’ finds drummer Andrew Katz taking a more hands-on role alongside Toledo as they mesh their day jobs with their electronic side project 1 Trait Danger.

As a result, the new album sounds more experimental, and there’s a disjointed feel. Always an eclectic source of entertainment, Toledo's music was generally a vivid whistle-stop tour of his influences. Here we find him cribbing from a wide spread—jazz to Chuck Berry to David Bowie and Radiohead.

Opener Weightlifters sees jagged guitar puncturing a backdrop of noise that could come from self-isolation classic Crocodile Dundee before Toledo spouts lyrics that point to a sense of self-discontent. 

Moments like this battle against more familiar choices like the warm, soothing chords underpinning Life Worth Missing, or the fuzzy guitars of Hollywood that hint at the Dandy Warhols’ ‘Come Down’. For once Toledo allows his vocals to be laid bare rather than ferreted away almost ashamedly.

In places, though, the experimentation is too much. Can’t Cool Me Down overcooks its underwhelming chorus, although a substantially different live version is already a fan favourite. The dreadful Hymn, meanwhile, amounts to nothing more than depressingly minimalist wailing.

Fortunately, the dull moments are in the minority. A Billie Jean-style beat drives the impressive Deadlines, where the pressures of a record contract are perhaps hinted at, while the acoustic-led Martin taps into the uncanny knack Toledo has for delivering catchy gems. The rambling seven minute There Must Be More Than Blood is also a brilliant reminder of why people fell for this band as it meanders its way through noodling guitar lines and melodic perfection.

‘Making A Door Less Open’ is clearly a release, giving the band some freedom not evident on their earlier Matador work. But that comes at a price for anyone wanting more of the same as 2016’s superb ‘Teens of Denial’ or the remake of ‘Twin Fantasy’. 

And do we really need an appearance from Toledo’s 1 Trait Danger alter ego Trait? Probably not. Make no mistake, this is a mixed bag. But perhaps its lack of cohesion will allow it time to settle in before becoming as endearing as the rest of Car Seat Headrest’s burgeoning catalogue.


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