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'Teens of Denial': An Album to Play While You Dissociate

By Giliann Karon | 11/11/17 6:49pm
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Photo: Stereogum

A bad trip has never sounded so cool. Car Seat Headrest’s album Teens of Denial slips your drugged induced panic attack into a leather jacket and gives it a swipe of oxblood lipstick. Maybe it’s not a true concept album, but all 12 songs revolve around stumbling through young adulthood while being strung out on whatever shit you can find.

The opening song, “Fill in the Blank” creates an experience so palpable that it feels like you’re actually hearing it live. It begins with an isolated guitar riff before launching into a full experience, complete with drums and Will Toledo’s gravelly voice. You start to smell sweat and PBR and feel burly men wearing flannels push against you. You have no right to be depressed,” Toledo shouts, igniting a chorus of self-deprecating cynicism. Toledo acknowledges his pessimism and mocks his whiny attitude, yelling “it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts.” This album explores suicide (“1937 State Park”), casual drug use (“Destroyed by Hippie Powers”), and what Toledo calls “post-party melancholia (“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”).

In “Vincent,” Toledo experiments with a wide range of emotions. The song begins with a single guitar strum. The strum reverberates in your ear and the music swells inside your body. He sings with a paranoid sense of urgency. He unravels near the end. Toledo contemplates suicide, reflecting on past attempts and his own faults. He struggles with his mental health as his voice escalates to a raspy yell. The guitar-driven song closes with an exasperated croon of “Now I have nothing to say.”

Perhaps the quintessential Car Seat Headrest song is “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem).” This song details Toledo’s single experience with psychedelic drugs. Rather than having a spiritual, out-of-body experience, he “felt like a walking piece of shit.” It chronicles the highs, the lows, and the paranoia in between. “Drugs are better, drugs are better with/Friends are better, friends are better with/Drugs are better,” he repeats. He highlights the “cool factor” associated with drug use. He and his friends are just “teens of style,” as he puts it. Maybe what he’s doing isn’t right, but it’s what’s in style. And we’ve all been there. We don’t do something because we want to, we do it to follow the pack. Toledo is 23 and he still feels pressure to conform. I’ve felt it at 6, I’ve felt it at 13, and I’m still feeling it at 19. That’s what makes this album so universal.

The album reads like a story. The story is not succinct enough to label Teens of Denial a concept album, but the songs are still loosely conceptual. Each song flows into the next. The album explores a spectrum of emotions, but they’re all rooted in the same coming-of-age frustration. This genre of self-aware indie rock is nothing new, but each release of its kind makes us feel a little less alone. This album is not the antidote to your sadness. The lyrics won’t inspire you to change your life around, but it will make you feel a little less alone. Worst case scenario, there are some sick guitar solos.

RIYL: Diet Cig, Cloud Nothings, LVL Up, Twin Peaks