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How Car Seat Headrest Are 'Making A Door Less Open'

Michael Athey delves into the twists and turns of Car Seat Headrest's latest album

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Image Credit: Matador Records

Making A Door Less Open is a cryptic album.

This is the prevailing theme that twists and turns throughout, as songwriter Will Toledo articulates the struggle of creating an album that both satisfies the critics, the fans and perhaps most difficultly, himself. Making A Door Less Open is an examination of this hurdle and how it perforates into other normal aspects of Toledo’s life. Just like Toledo’s life, however, the album’s quality doesn’t come through this struggle unscathed; and despite the cryptic nature of the album delivering some of Toledo’s most engaging lyrics to date, it also makes the album equally frustrating at times.

What sets Car Seat Headrest apart from other indie bands is the brilliance of Toledo’s lyrical prowess. It has always been their unique selling point and the first strength I would raise to potential new listeners. Therefore, it is pleasing to say that Making A Door Less Open (MADLO) presents no hint of Toledo’s skill weakening and is arguably the album’s highlight. Toledo’s writing quirks remain both prevalent and enjoyable, such as the self-referential lines to his former works. Allusions to Twin Fantasy, the group’s previous album, can be found in ‘Hollywood’, ‘Deadlines (Thoughtful)’ and ‘Famous’. Toledo does seemingly place greater emphasis though on imagery this time round. Standout track ‘Life Worth Missing’ has a leitmotif of a fantastical Alice In Wonderland-esque escape through the “hole” in his backyard. This contrasts the violent imagery that reverberates throughout ‘Deadlines (Hostile)’, as menacing lines discuss the “temptation” and ramifications of a potential sexual encounter.

My favourite line however comes in ‘There Must Be More Than Blood’:
“And you're grateful for the bus
It's a place to sit down
Like a spider in the winter trying not to be found”

This is one of the many great lyrics found on the album.

As well as detailing the pressures of dealing with fame and making an album, MADLO’s songs, just like others in Car Seat’s discography, are open to multiple interpretations, making them more enjoyable because there are different factors you can relate to. The opening track, ‘Weightlifters’, demonstrates this clearly. The song feels like it could be about the pressures of delivering an album, desiring personal motivation or a critique of body imaging. All three interpretations feel equally truthful and that makes ‘Weightlifters’ and the majority of the album’s songs satisfying to listen to.

Despite this praise however, MADLO will likely leave listeners a tad underwhelmed by the end of its runtime, mainly due to the album’s pacing and some odd creative decisions. In the run up to the release Toledo stated that he wanted “an album full of songs that had a special energy, each one unique and different inits vision”. This vision of the album is illustrated by its cover art being an amalgamation of each art piece that had already been created for the album’s songs. However, the ordering of the unique songs into the track list is not as seamless. It kicks off well, ‘Weightlifters’ is a smart opening track with its droning synth slowly building anticipation and is reminiscent of a band about to take stage at a concert but the album hits a trough in quality and consequently pace by the fourth track and although the quality does pick up again a few songs later, the pace never quite recovers. I understand that with the focus more on unique songs MADLO wouldn’t feel as concisely planned as the groups two previous works Twin Fantasy or Teens of Denial. Yet even Teens Of Denial, which has a similar focus to MADLO due to it being a remastered compilation of earlier songs, still feels better paced than MADLO. The absence of a big single is felt here too. MADLO lacks anything quite like ‘Something Soon’, ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ or ‘Bodys’.

With three different track listings for vinyl, CD and Digital; I think it is safe to assume Toledo wasn’t satisfied with the pacing either.

Plus, even though the album does revel in its cryptic nature, some decisions are confusing for the wrong reasons. The obvious perpetrator is ‘Hymn – Remix’, which defies explanation. It is egregious to the ears and by being placed in the middle of the album it really spoils the flow. A similar case can be said for ‘Hollywood’, a more fully realised track, which does have a poignant message, but is totally off kilter for the band. Some better tracks sadly fall victim to baffling decisions too. Personally, the track ‘Martin’ begs another chorus and the closer ‘Famous’ feels like it ends before it even begins. Additionally, while I understand that the three versions of ‘Deadlines’ came around late in the creation process, and both ‘Hostile’ and ‘Thoughtful’ are great songs, like the three track lists it creates confusion for the listener.

Ultimately, MADLO represents a mostly successful departure from the indie rock sound that was starting to define the band. Delving into the pop and EDM genre is an enjoyably refreshing change and thankfully still feels quintessentially like Car Seat Headrest for the most part. Despite this, MADLO frustrates and lacks the same quality of their last two albums. It is still worthy of attention, however, and if Toledo can lessen the pressure on himself, the next project could be very special, especially if he is even more acclimatised to the new style of sound.

If this is the result of making the door less open, I can only anticipate what awaits when the door is perfectly placed.

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