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Album review: Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 magnum opus Twin Fantasy will perhaps be remembered as one of the definitive breakups albums of the 2010s. Will Toledo’s home-recorded, reverbed-out treatise on sexuality, sadness and memory is just as potent now as it was 6 years ago, and looking back, it’s easy to see why it put Car Seat Headrest on the modern indie map.

CSH’s latest release, Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) revisits and reimagines the original Twin Fantasy (now retroactively subtitled Mirror to Mirror). It strips away the original’s hazy, lo-fi production and adds in a full band, but it also makes substantial lyrical changes to many songs. After all, Toledo is now in a very different place, mentally as well as professionally, and given the extremely intimate nature of Twin Fantasy, it makes sense that the content would change to reflect that.

Often, these adjustments result in a vastly improved final product. Toledo and mixing/mastering engineer Adam Stilson polish these songs into alt-rock gems, making the vocals more distinct and highlighting the album’s musical genome- a heady mix of shoegaze, midwestern emo and surf rock. The more upbeat tracks benefit the most from this, and the new version of “Cute Thing” in particular is a revelation, beefing up the original composition into the stomping, glam-rock-infused summer jam it was clearly always meant to be. “Bodys” has undergone a similar transformation, now an angular, jittery toe-tapper with obvious single potential.

But alas, not all changes made here have been for the better. The monologue at the end of “Nervous Young Inhumans”, where Toledo shakily explains the notion of Galvanism, was one of Mirror to Mirror’s biggest emotional gut-punches. While it might have felt disingenuous to hear the same thing repeated with better production, the new monologue isn’t nearly as compelling, especially since the sleeker new version of the song stands so well on its own. And “Famous Prophets”, once an already lengthy 10-minute mini-epic, has swelled to a whopping 16 minutes, and ends up feeling a bit indulgent, despite arguably stronger lyrics.

It’s difficult to say whether or not Face to Face is an essential release for Car Seat Headrest fans. After all, Mirror to Mirror is still available for free on Bandcamp, and while I certainly think Face to Face is better, I don’t know that I could say it’s ten dollars better. But for those who listened to and loved the original Twin Fantasy, Toledo has created not a cheap retread or an attempt to cash in on a beloved artistic statement, but an album that complements rather than replaces its source material, reflecting upon as well as repeating it. And that, in and of itself, is something truly commendable.

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