“If I stacked up all the hours I wasted I could climb straight to heaven” Will Toledo once sang on Boxing Day, the incredible fifteen minute epic that kicks off his 2013 masterpiece Nervous Young Man. But it certainly doesn’t seem as though the singer/songwriter has been wasting much time at all: in the space of little more than five years Toledo has released a plethora of material under the Car Seat Headrest name, including the layered and beautiful Twin Fantasy; the comparatively stripped back How To Leave Town EP; the unhinged and delirious Monomania; and now Teens Of Style, his first record for a major label.
Teens Of Style is less an original album and more a kind of reworked greatest hits, featuring newly recorded versions of songs Toledo has been singing for years. But rather than feeling like a lazy attempt to capitalise on the interest generated by being picked up by Matador as quickly as possible, Teens of Style serves as both a fantastic introduction to Toledo’s world for the uninitiated and a stunning, surprisingly cohesive work in its own right.
Toledo is a master of tonal control, and the way his songs lurch from self-indulgent regret to empowered declarations and then all the way back again is something to behold. With its head hung, the brilliant Something Soon shuffles between beautiful, surprisingly tender revelations and a crashing chorus that drips with regret and longing. There are few that can craft a chorus the way Toledo can, and both No Passion and Strangers feature anthemic, powerful refrains that are ready-made to be belted out during an illicit drunken sing a long at ten o’clock on a work night.
Indeed, the distinct emotional quality of Toledo’s music brings to mind the author Oliver Mol’s quote on his own work: “I wanted to imagine someone reading and laughing and then thinking: wait, that’s kinda fucked up.” The laugh/stop laughing/feel melancholy cycle is one that will be familiar to any longtime Car Seat Headrest fan, and the brilliant Times To Die – the centrepiece of the album – smashes up stinging, soulful lyrics with grimly amusing barbs, sometimes even forcing these two disparate emotional points to half-rhyme with each other. “Well they took him to the temple” Toledo howls, “and they listened to his demos, mixing up the mythic with the mundane in his own indomitable way.
Ultimately Teens of Style is an entrance into a fully realised world; a work with unique signs and signifiers that become increasingly powerful with every go over. Every line Toledo sings, every word he writes, feels charged. There is no one like him, and there is no album like this one.