Car Seat Headrest’s Expansive Whiplash Tone Shift

On May 4, 2020

Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Making A Door Less Open, the new album from Car Seat Headrest.

Making A Door Less Open marks the 12th project in 10 years of Will Toledo’s band, Car Seat Headrest. It’s their first since re-making their 2011 bedroom breakout Twin Fantasy in its entirety, and their first full-length of entirely new material since 2016’s Teens Of Denial. Teens of Denial was a charming and indulgent pastiche of ’90’s rock, while Making A Door Less Open is a dramatic shift toward connecting to a broader audience through big beats and more electronic textures.

Making A Door Less Open is indeed a Car Seat Headrest project — but it is not a Will Toledo project. Written and performed by his gas mask-wearing, alter-ego “Trait,” he set out to make the album a little less autobiographical and separate Car Seat Headrest from Will Toledo.

The shift in tone is drastic. The album opens with “Weightlifters,” a track that is centered around a creaky synth lead and builds with arena-ready drums. Toledo sings, “maybe I should start lifting weights,” in higher fidelity than we’ve ever heard him. Though the electronic arena-ready alt-pop tone was jarring at first, it often comes across as earnest and genuine through a heartfelt performance.

There are moments throughout the record that feel a little less like genuine emotion, and a little more like satire — for better or worse. The high energy, big-riff centered, lamenting letter to Hollywood, titled “Hollywood,” leans more toward the latter. Trait and drummer Andrew Katz scream “Hollywood makes me wanna puke” throughout, over a riff that could have just as easily been placed on a New Politics record in 2015. Hollywood is placed right next to “Hymn (Remix)” in the tracklist, a song that builds tons of musical momentum and doesn’t stop evolving. It feels like the intention is to create a high-energy, exciting interlude but ends up feeling disjointed and like it casts too wide of a net — an issue that plagues the lowest moments on Making A Door Less Open.

There is, however, considerably more good than bad. “There Must Be More Than Blood” is a nearly eight-minute ode to the common threads that bind us together as people. The electronic textures feel less like caricatures here, and have more chemistry with the acoustic instrumentation — the kind of harmony of an electronic-but-play-like-a-traditional-band of groups like Mount Kimbie. Above all, Making A Door Less Open sounds like it was a ton of fun to make. If reaching a broader audience was the goal, then they’ll surely achieve it; the album hosts a wide range of sounds, and there really is something for everyone here.

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Jonah Graber

Jonah is a production student at UW-Madison. Most nights he dreams that he is Spider-man and hopes that maybe one day he will be.

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