Review of TEENS OF DENIAL; or, Review of Car Seat Headrest's Pitchfork Aftershow at Empty Bottle, Chicago, 7/16/16; or, Review of My Pesky Emotions (The Ballad of A)

 Photo by  Morgan Martinez .

Photo by Morgan Martinez.

FIRST VERSE:

And how should I begin?

Last Friday: I went from zero (an unhurried forty-five-minute walk from my apartment to Union Park for day one of Pitchfork Festival) to sixty (impatiently bemoaning the amorphous blob-line waiting to get through the gates over which Car Seat Headrest's first song drifted) in three seconds flat.

Last Friday, Saturday: I went from zero (fine with missing Car Seat Headrest's sold-out Pitchfork aftershow, they'll come back, I'm not that into them, no big deal) to sixty (leaving the festival five hours early to lurk around Empty Bottle for three hours waiting to snag one of a few door tickets; though sleep-short and body-weary and standing-sore, I held my place at the front of the crowd through two opening bands [not to say that Detroit's Stef Chura and Chicago locals Pool Holograph didn't themselves play super solid sets]) in three seconds flat.

Last week, this week: I started at zero (Teens of Denial sounds pretty good, but I'll probably not listen to it more than a few times), slid a foot lightly onto the pedal (I'm tired and feeling lousy at work, but at least I really like this album now, hm), and shot up to sixty (setting up an enormously goofy Facebook page named "True Car Seat Headrest Fan Club" [aiming to dodge the trouble I might get in for designating the page "official"]) in three seconds flat.

I can't write this without admitting that I'm having to reread my recent piece on Jessica Lea Mayfield and parasocial relationships to calm myself down; it feels almost unethical to omit that.

I tweeted to Will Toledo requesting a brief interview even though (because?) I've been posting many wildly lascivious tweets about him.

I'm in a place where listening to Mitski is an act of self-care, because it's not listening to Car Seat Headrest.

I'm in a state.

*

CHORUS:

I give up I give up I give up I give up
I give up I give up I give up I give up

*

SECOND VERSE:

How can I move on after beginning?

Teens of Denial reminds me of another of my favorite records released so far this year, Mitski's wonderful Puberty 2. But where Mitski masters the thirty-minute album and the three-minute song, Teens stretches above an hour and recalls other expansive albums that have affected me profoundly in the decade since I started to find myself musically. (In our post-"epic win" world I kind of hate using that first word but feel I can't avoid it here.) With The Monitor it shares elaborate ship metaphors and battle-cry choruses; themes of death and rebirth emerge over the course of Teens, The Moon & Antarctica, Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, and Kendrick Lamar's works. Like Broken Social Scene's self-titled record (and the others I've mentioned, really, now that I think about it), Teens is exhausted by living and yet manages a great deal of genuine tenderness. These albums feel giving: halfway through them you're satisfied, and then they offer you more. They also approach (in my opinion) perfection: no filler, nothing superfluous. (I have to wonder if women artists don't yet feel quite comfortable taking up so much space and time. It's hard to come up with Infinite Jests or Blonde on Blondes by women—Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me, with its appropriately generous-tending title, is one example that does come to mind. But conciseness is a skill, too.)

Musically, Teens doesn't sound new. It sounds classic, which is not at all a bad thing; it also sounds really good, marking a departure from the lo-fi quality of Toledo's previous releases and featuring exhilarating guitars and vocal crescendos. Toledo's great accomplishment, though, is his lyrics. It's not so surprising that this album and Mitski's latest both refer to adolescence in their titles: both are about angst (if not mental illness proper), self-knowledge, growing up, and the hard slow work of all that. I'm twenty-five. These things are interesting to me.

*

CHORUS:

You will always be a loser
I give up I give up I give up I give up

*

THIRD VERSE:

What might I have asked Will Toledo, had he responded right away to my request? Some ideas:

How does it feel to finally get this kind of recognition after working unsigned for so long? Is it strange, or does it just feel earned? Were you always ambitious as far as eventually attaining some level of fame? In "1937 State Park,” you sing: "I didn't want you to hear that shake in my voice; my pain is my own"—do you write for an audience, or are your songs, above all, your own?

Teens is concerned with self-improvement and includes a lot of advice, or self-talk that doubles as advice. Did you worry about crossing from earnest over into corny? (I don't think that he does.)

What comes first, lyrics or music?

Do interviewers ever annoy the hell out of you?

And what comes next?

*

BRIDGE:

“Unfortunately I am afraid, as always, of going on. For to go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.”
―Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Let's take a look at the lyrics:

"Stop your whining, try again. No one wants to cause you pain. They're just trying to let some air in, but you hold your breath. I hold my breath." I'm going to make a playlist called "I Choose Sadness". It will include Teens's opening track, Mitski's "A Burning Hill", and Rilo Kiley's "The Good that Won't Come Out", among other songs I wish I didn't relate to.

"We're just trying, I'm only trying to get home: drunk drivers, drunk drivers. Put it out of your mind and perish the thought—there's no comfort in responsibility." We're growing up, let's get uncomfortable.

"This isn't sex, I don't think. It's just extreme empathy. She's not my ex. We never met, but do you still think of me?" These lines hit close to home and don't help at all with the wreck of a parasocial relationship I've found myself in.

"I've been waiting all my life. I've been waiting for some real good porn, something with meaning, something fulfilling. I'd like to make my shame count for something." Neither do these.

"How was I supposed to know how to not get drunk every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and why not Sunday?" My college years could have been so much more productive had I only known how. Lately I am learning to appreciate the experience of not getting drunk at shows. It feels so good.

"Hangovers feel good when I know it's the last one. Then I feel so good that I have another one." Learning is difficult. Living is difficult.

Keeping this brief is difficult.

"We're dancing, right? This is dancing."

*

CHORUS:

It doesn't have to be like this
It doesn't have to be like this

*

OUTRO:

"How am I supposed to [open up my heart] when I go to the same room every night, and sleep in the same bed every night, the same fucking bed with the red comforter with the white stripes, and the yellow ceiling light makes me feel like I'm dying? The sea is too familiar; how many nights have I drowned here? How many times have I drowned?"
—Car Seat Headrest, "The Ballad of the Costa Concordia"

(Even just thinking about some of Toledo's lyrics makes me cry.)

Back to last Friday: after Car Seat Headrest's Pitchfork set, I headed to another of the festival's stages to stake out a good spot for Carly Rae Jepsen's. That crowd did grow large, and it might have been the most ecstatic one I'd ever been a part of. But then it's Saturday night and spirits are just as high amid Car Seat Headrest's Empty Bottle audience.

Jepsen's latest album has won over a diverse swath of listeners with lyrics that feel universally accessible as well as intelligent and mature. (Emotion is a bit like a kids' movie that adults praise as being "actually really smart".) Toledo's lyrics are more likely to make you suspect they were written especially for you: they're complex, verbose; they describe experiences and emotions that don't get a lot of radio play. But the thing is, they'll make you and you and you believe they were meant just for you and you and you. The crowd at the Bottle that night shouted along with the same kind of passion that Jepsen's fans had expressed the day before.

CREDITS

Buy or stream Teens of Denial, ASAP. Try your best to see Car Seat Headrest play live whenever you're graced with the chance.