The Lowdown: The past is a funny and fickle thing. Even as it shrinks to the size of a speck in the rearview mirror, its contours shift and its lessons zoom into razor-sharp focus. Such is the experience of listening to Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), a sprawling, loosely conceptual rock album that reimagines an earlier effort Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo recorded at 19 on a cheap laptop. Some fans may be dismayed that Toledo chose to follow up 2016’s Teens of Denial by looking backward to his teenage years, but the new Twin Fantasy justifies its existence by being light years ahead of the old.
The Good: The first of the album’s two centerpieces, “Beach Life-in-Death”, finds the young songwriter grappling with a queer identity amidst a loose, three-part structure that provides just enough support to withstand a storm of guitar solos, quasi-spoken monologues, and verses collapsing into bridges collapsing into codas. It’s a breathtaking composition that demands multiple listens and rewards each in turn.
The Bad: Twin Fantasy’s other giant pillar, the 16-minute “Famous Prophets (Stars)”, never catches in quite the same way. Still, it’s worth sticking around for the piano-led melody that carries the song’s back half, and it’s hard to blame Toledo for stretching out and seeing if he can touch the sun.
The Verdict: Rock music has a bad habit of looking backwards, and the same can be said of Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy. But this album flips that rearview gaze on its head, suggesting that the past may well contain new and exciting paths forward. It’s a neat inversion that yields some of the most thrillingly ambitious indie rock compositions of this decade, though one that occasionally exhausts the listener into submission.
Essential Tracks: “Beach Life-in-Death”, “Nervous Young Inhumans”, and “Cute Thing”