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‘Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)’: look away from the mirror and into another’s eyes

| Monday, February 26, 2018

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a text. I won’t transpose it here since his writing style (comprised entirely of capital letters and misspelled expletives) may not be fit to print, but I will give you the gist. My friend, a musician and Car Seat Headrest early adopter, listened to the band’s newly released “Twin Fantasy” and felt betrayed. 2011’s “Twin Fantasy,” now entitled “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror),” had once served as his musical guidebook — a low fidelity blueprint detailing the ins and outs of a 19-year-old’s manic bouts with obsessive desire.

Like most 19-year-olds, my friend included, “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror)” explodes with ambition — 13-minutes epics, near orchestral vocal arrangements and the intent to understand concepts far beyond the reach of the human mind — which it then attempts to execute despite limited experiential and technical resources. Will Toledo recorded the entire record at home with computer interfaces. The record illustrates, as Toledo sings midway through “Beach-Life-In-Death,” the headspace of a febrile young man, “incapable of being inhuman” and “living uncontrollably.”

Perhaps this year’s “Twin Fantasy,” or “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face),” hurt my friend so dearly because it tries to control the hormonal rage of the original. Even the titles suggest maturation — 2011’s “Mirror to Mirror” observes a 19-year-old Toledo as he glares at his own reflection. On the other hand, this year’s “Face to Face” transcribes a dialogue between the now 25-year-old Toledo and his younger self.

“It’ll take some time,” Toledo predicts on the record’s opening track, “My Boy (Twin Fantasy),” “but somewhere down the line / We won’t be alone.” These words, first written by a lone, young, and uncertain Toledo, seem to have come to fruition. Car Seat Headrest is no longer a solo endeavor. After two albums (including my personal 2016 Album of the Year, “Teens of Denial,”) and a relentless touring regimen, drummer Andrew Katz, guitarist Ethan Ives, and bassist Seth Dalby have proven themselves to be irreplaceable parts of Toledo’s recording machine. With his ensemble, Toledo has risen from his previous cult status to become a household name, at least by indie rock standards. His music has transformed into a platform from which he shares his burdens with thousands of devotees.

Certain Car Seat Headrest lifers take issue with this new reality on “Twin Fantasy” — and express these misgivings via angry texts and Reddit threads. Nonetheless, the album marks a positive step forward for the band. Cult bands derive power form exclusivity. They, along with their small, intensely devoted followers, find solace in the fact that their shared artistic sense sets them apart from the mainstream. This outsider’s bond, while conceptually appealing, is not sustainable. Fantasy glues the bond together.

At the conclusion of the record in “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” Toledo delineates the idea clearly: “This is the part of the song where Will gives up. He dissociates from his own romance until it becomes just a fantasy. This is not something that could happen to him; this is something that takes place only in his mind. But he blinks now and shakes himself awake. He has rejoined society.”

Though skeptics may find society boring, those willing to embrace the inevitable flow of time might find it refreshing. If, as Will exclaims on the newly dance-ified “Bodys,” “Everybody’s swinging their hips / Everybody’s giving their waitress tip / Everybody’s dancing all the dances / Everybody’s dancing all the dances now,” what good will it do you to sit in the corner and sulk? You may ironically yearn, as does the protagonist of “Mirror to Mirror” on “Cute Thing,” for the vintage glory of “Dan Bejar’s voice” and “John Entwistle’s stage presence” — Entwistle, christened “The Ox,” was famous for his utter lack of stage presence. Yet at the end of the day, the sincere passions of “Frank Ocean’s voice” and “James Brown’s stage presence” are probably better for you.

A cynical 19-year-old probably won’t understand this. To this cynic, pop constitutes a rejection of self-expression. But, with age, pop ceases to be a rejection of the individual and metamorphoses into an acceptance of love. Pop, at its best, celebrates communion though the lens of individual expression. And no amount of capital or expletives can deny the redeeming value of even the smallest bond.


Artist: Car Seat Headrest

Album: “Twin Fantasy”

Label: Matador

Favorite Track: “Sober to Death”

If you like: (Sandy) Alex G, Waxahatchee, Pinegrove

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

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