By Ty Ingels
RIYL: Alex G, Bon Iver, The Strokes, Snail Mail, The Microphones
Alternative/Indie rock icons Car Seat Headrest’s latest album, titled Making A Door Less Open was released on May 1st, earlier this year, after following the bands massively successful past two albums, 2016’s Teens of Denial and 2018’s remaster/remake of the band’s older project Twin Fantasy. Led by main vocalist and guitar player Will Toledo, the band was originally a solo artist project mainly releasing projects on Bandcamp, and is now today a full band consisting of Will, Ethan Ives, Andrew Katz, and Seth Dalby, and operate under the Matador Records Label. Car Seat Headrest has been gaining a small cult following for years but after signing to Matador in 2015, and eventually releasing the critically acclaimed Teens of Denial in 2016, the band exploded in popularity. Toledo and the rest of Car Seat Headrest found great success in their brand of melancholy lofi-ishness in both the sound and lyrics that struck a perfect chord.
Fast forward to 2020 and the band releases a new record after a long awaited return after Twin Fantasy (their studio remaster of a project that Toledo had made back in his bandcamp days). Making a Door Less Open is both a departure from the old and yet an album that sits perfectly in the band’s discography. As I stated before, the band was primarily known for their indie rock style of blending alternative rock with elements of pop, but this album is much more an electronic album than a rock album. On this project, Will Toledo and Andrew Katz wanted to try their hand with producing a new sound for the band, by taking electronic and EDM influences and trying to blend them with the iconic lofi production the band is known for. Especially songs like Deadlines (Hostile) and Deadlines (Thoughtful) have big electronic breakdowns and build ups that you can’t really find on any of their past records, the song Weightlifters especially has a great combo of synths and keyboards with an almost simplistic musical refrain that I really love. The song Hymn (Remix) is entirely electronic production and is a big example of the sound the band was going for during the creation process of the album.
Along with their sound, Car Seat Headrest is also very well known for their lyrical content throughout their discography, Twin Fantasy was entirely a concept album of a relationship that Will Toledo had where he was projecting his personal feelings and opinions on the other person without realizing it was detrimental to the relationship. The narrative of Making a Door Less Open is one of reflection on the career of the band and the process of being artistic in the world of the music industry, and how getting caught up in your work life can affect your social life. Two songs on the album, which I mentioned earlier, Deadlines (Hostile) and Deadlines (Thoughtful) have essentially the same title and refer to what can be assumed to be the deadlines the record label set for their next album release, but are two different perspectives of the idea. Can’t Cool Me Down can be perceived to be a person who is sick or in need of help from another person, and is realizing needing help from others is okay. Life Worth Missing is another song where it seems like the narrator/Will is searching within them self for peace and coming to terms with just being okay with life.
The album starts with the song Weightlifters, a song about saying you want to be better, i.e. “I should start lifting weights”, and just generally is about the act of never trying to do what you say you want to do. It sets up a general outline of the emotions that may be on display in the album, feelings like “I’m too busy to lift weights” and “I wish I lifted weights”, conflictions of personal desires. The next song Can’t Cool Me Down is, as I sort of described earlier, about having to come to terms of needing help from time to time and opening up, and after that the album starts to dive into some sort of narrative with the song Deadlines (Hostile). The lyrics of the song start with lines like “I was thinking people never change, but there’s a new taste of dread I can’t explain” possibly referring to himself in the sense that he feels he is no longer able to make great art, and knowing his emotions get made into popular songs (“And the thoughts that make up my life get reflected in others from time to time”) and so Will feels that he needs to look outwards for motivation instead of inwards. The song continues with the pre-chorus lines like “Oh, temptation, I could be a part of you, Can’t stay connected” in a way of saying that the narrator/Will instead of finding motivation found a distraction in the form of a relationship. The 2nd verse seems to be about Will finding another person he is interested in, and forming a romantic relationship with, therefore distracting him even more from his work, but he is aware and doesn’t care. This song ties back with the different perspective later in the album in Deadlines (Thoughtful), where it seems that Will sees that this relationship is really just a distraction and doesn’t like that he is just using this person. Now this relationship can be seen as with another person, but it also can be seen as his relationship with his musical career overall, and I believe this to be the case as later in Deadlines (Thoughtful), Will starts to reflect more on his career as in the beginning when he had no idea how to start with the music industry. Will sings “There was a predestined set of symbols ticking into place” as in he did not understand what exactly he had to do to get popular. He seems to be using this other person (or career) to try and get inspiration for music and nothing else, but ends up feeling bad for using this figurative person, saying “oh, compassion, it’s transforming me into..”
The last song I really want to dive into is the 7 minute long There Must Be More Than Blood. The title of the song is referring to the thought that there must be something more than just being related to someone or something that makes us want to be together, and having a weird homesickness whenever you don’t feel like you belong in a new environment. The song itself is about being in a new place after living somewhere for a long time, once again in a reflective view as Will remembers first moving away from home to work on music. Lines like “You know if I could close the blinds right, I could sleep all through the night” talk about feeling homesick but don’t really have the desire to return home. The middle of the song on the bridge between two choruses, the lyrics get very personal, once again reflecting on the career of Will / Car Seat Headrest, talking about how in order to have the melancholy sound they are known for takes you to a place where you don’t always look around to reflect on what’s happening. Will really seems to convey the feeling of trying to go back home once you have moved out and it will never be the same as it once was. Will remembers that he only went back home because of guilt of not seeing his parents, and does see his parents as not supportive. He sounds like he really wanted them to be exactly as he wanted, almost in the same way that he projected his own desires back on the album Twin Fantasy. “They had all of your life to get it right, They had all of that time just to change their minds, And you’re grateful for the bus, it’s a place to sit down”, Will is grateful for what his parents have done for him but feel like they never really supported him in the emotional sense.
The Album ends with the final lines on Famous. The song and album end with a repetition of the phrase “Change your mind”, and could be seen as a reference to the first song on the album Weightlifters where it was all about thoughts changing your body and your body changing your mind, a great full circle conclusion to an album that seems to be all about a full circle reflection on Will’s thoughts of his career.
Overall, I think this is a really good album with fun production that Car Seat Headrest clearly had fun making. There are some songs that I’m not really into like Hollywood and Hymn (Remix), but they are still okay alongside with the narrative of the album. If you are a fan of Car Seat Headrest and are open to them changing up their sound, you will probably like the album, but if you would rather that they stay more in line with their past work, you may not be the biggest fan. The lyrics and mood are generally the same, just with new flavor.