An homage to his growth as an artist and as a person, Will Toledo’s reworking of the 2011 indie cornerstone improves in many places and only falls short in a few.
I have to admit I’m a sucker for music that tackles the topic of teenage disillusionment and self-discovery (think most pop punk bands and everything Lorde has ever written). Those kinds of emotions are universally relatable and easy to translate into music that has a poignant rawness and authenticity to it.
Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 album “Twin Fantasy” has gained something of a cult following for being exactly that sort of music. Frontman Will Toledo took the aforementioned emotion a step further by re-releasing a remastered version of the album, which he originally recorded on his laptop in a closet at age 19.
Since then, the band has expanded from a teen’s solo project into a four-piece indie punk outlet. The remaster has replaced the 2011 version on Spotify, but it’s still available for purchase on Bandcamp.
The original “Twin Fantasy” is heavy on vocal overlays and crunchy guitar, with raw, emotional lyrics that fit solidly into a category I like to refer to as “Angry Sadboy.” In short, it’s exactly the sound you’d expect from a 19-year-old DIY-ing a solo album. And it’s excellent.
2011’s “Twin Fantasy” is witness to interesting guitar riffs and complex, interlocking rhythms. What I love about this album, and about Car Seat Headrest in general, is that the band takes repetitive melodies traditionally found in punk/pop punk music and makes them more interesting. Toledo is not afraid to mix up song structures in unconventional ways or break off from a layering of guitar riffs to experiment with melodies, and he handles those changes in tone smoothly.
For perspective, Toledo mentioned in a “Rolling Stone” interview that one of the tracks on the remaster had 20 different layered guitar parts in the opening section alone. “Back in July we had a version with about half a dozen, and it just felt empty,” he said. So yeah. That’s what we’re dealing with here.
This complexity makes for an engaging listening experience that still maintains a strong indie punk spirit. This, combined with the DIY vibe of the albums and lyrics that deal with coming out, nights of drunken debauchery and working through young relationships gives the entire work a deeply bittersweet and nostalgic feeling.
I’m sure lots of CSH fans are skeptical about the re-release, and this makes sense. There have been too many remastered tracks and albums that have been a complete flop because they lost the rawness or vulnerability that made the original so powerful.
Luckily, the remaster of “Twin Fantasy” is wildly successful in that regard. While the remaster features more intricate and professional production, it was done gracefully and showcases Toledo’s personal and musical growth.
Don’t get me wrong, I have my qualms about some of the individual changes in sound. First of all, the instrumentation is definitely more produced. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the album has certainly lost its “I made this LP in a closet during college” vibe.
Sometimes this change works really well, sometimes it doesn’t. I felt that many of the tracks were improved by the care put into the remaster’s production. “Stop Smoking,” for example, sounds significantly better — it’s much crisper, and you hear all the intricacies of the acoustic riff that makes up the base of the song, rather than getting a muddy blend of bass-boosted static. “Cute Thing” and “Sober to Death” were similarly improved. However, other tracks like “Beach-Life-in-Death” and “Nervous Inhumans” really lost their punch.
Toledo also simplified the structure of some of the tracks. 2018’s “Twin Fantasy” loses some of the experimentation with guitar that was dominant on the first version, which is kind of a bummer. However, he seems to have made up for it by experimenting with other instruments. Again, sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. There were some regrettable drum machine-related choices made on “Bodys,” but the remake of “Famous Prophets (Stars)” featured a lovely and moving piano outro.
Though I wasn’t a fan of every change CSH made to the instrumentation on the remaster, I got the overall sense of a more mature, better-focused project.
With all that said, I liked the overall sound of the remaster no more than 30 seconds in because of the changes Toledo chose to make to his vocals. Rather than being drowned in crunchy punk-esque sound effects, they’re stripped down. As much as I love a good crunch, I think his voice really shines when it’s allowed to just do its thing. It has a raw vulnerability à la Conor Oberst that I really appreciate.
Making the decision to remove a lot of the vocal effects shows maturity and more confidence in his own musical abilities. I could also understand the lyrics a lot better, which allowed me to catch some themes that I didn’t pick up on with the 2011 version.
You can also see Toledo’s growth in the changes he makes to the album’s lyrics. He doesn’t change the majority of them, but words are switched up here and there.
Most notably, he changes a spoken word bit in “Nervous Young Inhumans” from a reflection on a spurned love, in which he says, “This is the part of the song where I start to regret writing it,” to a self-reflection that begins, “I’m a good person. I’m a powerful person. I don’t believe in evil. I think that evil is an idea created by others to avoid dealing with their own nature. I understand my own nature. Good and evil have nothing to do with it.”
On the whole, I was impressed by the re-release of “Twin Fantasy.” It takes a work that was probably significant personally, and certainly significant musically, and pays homage to it by revisiting it and reworking it. This is especially appropriate because of the album’s vulnerable tone,lyrically and musically. The themes of the album are finding yourself, working through the woes of youth, coming out, late nights, drunken mistakes, relationships, etc. These are subjects that change significantly in meaning when faced with personal growth, and Toledo uses the re-release to reflect upon those changes.
In the remaster to “Twin Fantasy,” Toledo pays respects to who he was and who he’s become, and he does so with grace, with candor and with a meticulous and loving touch.