WRITTEN BY: Paul Burke
Back in the fall of 2015, Car Seat Headrest made its Matador Records debut with Teens of Style. The album featured a collection of tracks from past Car Seat Headrest albums, re-recorded and re-structured to fit into one cohesive record. It was essentially a greatest hits album, pulling the best songs from the band’s catalog of nearly a dozen self-released albums. However, no songs were pulled from 2011’s fan favorite Twin Fantasy. Many fans hoped that if the band continued to be so interested in revisiting old songs, a complete redo of Twin Fantasy would eventually come. Sure enough, on February 16th, the group released Twin Fantasy: Face to Face, a full re-recorded, re-imagined version of its 2011 classic.
Just as he did with all of his bandcamp releases, frontman Will Toledo wrote and recorded everything on his own with nothing but an old laptop – he didn’t even have one external microphone. Album after album featured muddy, distorted production, but this never mattered to fans. His voice was always heard, and his emotion was always felt. The raw energy and passion on the original Twin Fantasy (now re-titled Twin Fantasy: Mirror to Mirror), paired with its bare-bones production creates an environment with no holds barred. The album centers around a relationship that 19 year old Will was in at the time, and rolls up feelings of love, heartbreak, anxiety, depression, and sexual confusion into one big ball of teenage angst.
Now 26, Will miraculously channels these same emotions behind this narrative, over six years after the release of Mirror to Mirror. Somehow, the feelings still seem real – almost too real. According to Matador Records’ Peyton Thomas, “[Will] always knew he would return to Twin Fantasy. He never did complete the work… never could square his grand ambitions against his mechanical limitations.” Now with a tight full band and a major label budget on his side, Will Toledo has the capability to push his sound into new territory and transform Twin Fantasy into the colossus it always deserved to be – and that’s just what he did. It is extremely rewarding to hear this album reach its full sonic and symbolic potential, especially knowing the massive output it will reach over time. To old fans, Mirror to Mirror is sacred. And now, Face to Face, yet so familiar, is somehow so fresh and exciting.
The album opens with “My Boy,” a short, repetitive track that starts somber and eventually bursts into a fuller sound carried by layered vocals. Although it is not as lyrically driven as the rest of the album, it showcases the array of moods and sounds coming up. The second track on the album “Beach Life-In-Death,” is the true kickstarter to the album. Broken up into three distinct parts, this track sees Will jump from one major theme to the next over its epic thirteen minutes. Much of the track focuses on unrequited love and its resulting anxiety and depression. “It should be called anti-depression / as a friend of mine suggested / because it’s not the sadness that hurts you / it’s the brain’s reaction against it,” Will passionately sings. It’s observant moments like this where the listener can so easily forget these words were written by a 19 year old. The fact that these lyrics (and the rest of the album’s lyrics) are still so refreshing proves that Will and his lyrical ideas were far ahead of their time. Thematically, “Beach Life-In-Death” is undoubtedly one of the most important songs in Car Seat Headrest’s catalog.
A toxic relationship has never seemed more appealing than on the simple, yet beautifully crafted “Sober to Death.” Will paints himself and his love interest as two unstable lovers, who he claims “were wrecks before [they] crashed into each other.” The story shows that they not as much in love with each other as they are in love with the idea of being with someone just as crazy as themself. They don’t want to be alone, but they shouldn’t be together. The final 90 seconds leave us with the most memorable hook on the entire album: “Don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more.”
On “Bodys” we see a different kind of ambition stemming from Will Toledo as he recognizes the fragility of life on this planet. “Don’t you realize our bodies could fall apart at any second? I am terrified your body could fall apart at any second,” he sings as he urges his loved one to dance with him. Will gives nods to Frank Ocean, James Brown, and John Linell on “Cute Thing,” where he playfully sings about his awkward teen romance and weird sex.
An extremely important aspect of Twin Fantasy: Face to Face is that it is not a carbon copy of Mirror to Mirror. There are entirely new sets of music and lyrics sprinkled throughout, helping extend the narrative of the record, eventually letting it come to a close once and for all. Perhaps the best example of this comes on “Famous Prophets (Stars).” Originally ten minutes long on Mirror to Mirror, the band cuts out a solid chunk and adds about eight more minutes that jump from a soothing piano solo to an expansive conclusion guided by trumpets, booming guitars, and Will’s wailing vocals. We also get a full explanation of the ever so present mirror and face themes in a bible verse recited at the end of this track. “For now we only see a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” the verse reads. In this verse, the “now” refers back to 2011, when Will was first writing these songs about events in his relationship as they were happening. Since the emotions were so high and raw, the events on Mirror to Mirror are portrayed in a naive, one-sided manner. Therefore, his story is more of a reflection of reality, rather than reality itself. When retelling this story over six years later (the “then” in the bible verse), Will is able to take a step back and complete the narrative with a more mature, objective approach. He looks at reality head on, or in other words, Face to Face.
Twin Fantasy: Face to Face does not replace Mirror to Mirror – it adds to it. It expands upon a story that was apparently always incomplete. Its impact and importance extends beyond those who fell in love with Mirror to Mirror years ago. It will welcome in a new wave of fans ready to scream “Beach Life-In-Death” alone in their bedrooms, and it will send old fans into a storm of nostalgic tears over “Sober to Death.” Regardless of what emotions or feelings might stem from this raw, powerful album, Face to Face has already received critical acclaim and will continue to touch listeners for years to come.
Favorite Tracks: Beach Life-In-Death, Sober to Death, Bodys, Cute Thing, Famous Prophets (Stars)
Listen to Twin Fantasy: Face to Face and Car Seat Headrest’s past releases on Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, and all of your other favorite streaming platforms.