Car Seat Headrest (né Will Toledo) has been cranking out commendable, although not entirely memorable, lo-fi bedroom pop for the past five years at an alarming rate. Toledo’s prolific output (11 self-released Bandcamp albums) is enough to make Robert Pollard raise a salty salute, but with Headrest’s 2015 release How To Leave Town, Toledo’s ambitions seemed to be outpacing his abilities. That’s why Teens Of Style is such a pleasant surprise; a sprawling, shambolic, post-everything revelation. Though let’s be clear that Toledo is not reinventing the wheel. Bright horn blasts cut through dissonance, recalling Neutral Milk Hotel and The Ladybug Transistor, while Toledo’s distortion-mic delivery is a dead ringer for Julian Casablancas.
While the influences are clear, Toledo is upfront about it. There’s no attempt to hide behind snark or irony, and while much of the record is awash in reverb and wall of noise haze, Toledo maintains the hooks and accessibility that always made him attractive. With Teens, Toledo has reworked material from the first three years of his band’s existence, culling the best bits from 3 (2010), My Back Is Killing Me Baby (2011), and Monomania (2012) and reconstructing them on fresh sonic palettes. Where the original versions felt constrained and limited by production restraints, Teens allows Toledo the room to explore and treat each song as a mini epic. Standout tracks “Times To Die” and “Los Borrachos (I Don’t Have Any Hope Left, But The Weather Is Nice)” crack the five-minute mark without wallowing in psych excess, as Toledo reins in laptop noodling for tight composition.
Toledo’s songwriting has always been his strong suit, and his ruminations on well-worn themes of unrequited love, alienation, and teenage rebellion are spiked with wisdom. On the raucous single “Something Soon” Toledo laments, “I want to break something important / I want to kick my dad in the shins” without sounding like a bratty teen. Where M83’s Saturdays=Youth delivered a dream-pop document of John Hughes-era romanticism, Teens, in its own scruffy way, is the final death knell for the synth nostalgia movement. Those familiar with Toledo’s back catalog will marvel at the reworking of their favorite tracks, while the uninitiated will likely discover a bright young talent and wonder how the hell they’ve been missing out.