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Album Reviews

Album Review: Car Seat Headrest - Making A Door Less Open (Matador)

Sam Smith

Over the last five years, Car Seat Headrest have established themselves as one of the most popular indie rock bands around. Their last two records were met with critical acclaim thanks to a familiar guitar sound and frontman Will Toledo’s clever lyrical wordplay. Now, two years after their last project, they are back with a new album, Making a Door Less Open.

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After they re-recorded their 2011 album Twin Fantasy in 2018, Making a Door Less Open sees Toledo and friends take a completely new turn, embracing electronic music through the side project of Toledo and drummer Andrew Katz, 1 Trait Danger.

Toledo and Katz already had many of the ideas on display here lined up for 1 Trait Danger, but instead, they offloaded them on to this record, seeing the production of a new Car Seat Headrest album as the perfect opportunity to experiment stylistically.

This album is a far cry from Toledo’s early Car Seat Headrest days when he released music exclusively through Bandcamp, music that was recorded mostly in his car. Whereas that stuff was lo-fi and recorded outside a studio, the tracks here are very slickly produced and would have been impossible for Toledo to create at the start of his career.

Toledo said he wanted to make something different to his other albums and he sure has done that here. The tracks are sample-heavy beat-driven songs, with elements of EDM, hip hop, and of course the traditional indie guitar rock that Car Seat Headrest is known for.

On Weightlifters we get a taste straight away of the electronic influences, with sampled beats, synth sounds, and a heavy bass groove combining with scratchy distorted guitar in what is an album mood setter straight off the bat.

Can’t Cool Me Down, the first single released is an electro-guitar bop that is aimed at both the pop and indie crowd as a compromise between the two styles in the hope both crowds will like it. It is definitely catchy and captures the overall essence of this record quite well.

Things change quite quickly on Hollywood which is one of the most experimental songs Toledo and company have released. This track features screaming vocals from drummer Katz, spoken word passages from Toledo, and was quite the surprise when it came across the speakers.

Meanwhile, Deadlines (Thoughtful) brings the EDM heat in the closest example yet of what a Car Seat Headrest track would sound like in the club. There are pulsating beats, more synths, and an auto-tuned Toledo vocal that will no doubt have Car Seat Headrest traditionalists both confused and panicked.

But it’s not all about EDM and experimentation. Deadlines (Hostile) is a guitar throwback more in the classic Car Seat Headrest mould, There Must Be More Than Blood is a Toledo ballad in the vein of Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales and is good as some of the best he has written, while Martin would have fit perfectly on Teens of Denial. They may have gravitated more toward the EMD vein  here, but they are definitely not fully done with rock and roll just yet.

I admire artists who take a punt on their sound and do something different. It is always risky changing a successful formula as you risk alienating your fans and open up the risk of a backlash. There is no doubt that with Making A Door Less Open, Car Seat Headrest have taken a bold step in trying a more electronic sound but it seems to have mostly paid off.

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.