Car Seat Headrest, indie rock’s complex, post-teenage messiahs, bring anthems and anxiety to Underground Arts

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Car Seat Headrest | photo by Anna Webber | courtesy of the artist
Car Seat Headrest | photo by Anna Webber | courtesy of the artist

Car Seat Headrest – who headline Underground Arts this Sunday following an appearance at WXPN’s Non-COMM convention – is the rapidly exploding brainchild of 23-year-old indie rock whiz kid Will Toledo.

With this week’s Teens of Denial – the outfit’s first studio album of new material, following a dozen or so Bandcamp releases, plus last year’s Matador-abetted re-recording of select tracks from the back-catalog – Toledo and company have fully arrived, anointed, it seems, as the inheritors of a considerable array of rock’n’roll mythologies.

Like Guided By Voices, The Mountain Goats, Frankie Cosmos and late-period Prince, they are hermetic, hyper-prolific DIY cult heroes.  Like Morrissey, Bright Eyes and prime Weezer, they are earnest, wryly self-aware chroniclers of miserablism, outsiderdom and the general angst-ridden teenage condition.  Like the Hold Steady, Destroyer and Titus Andronicus, they’re loquacious, ambitiously literate repurposers of classicist rock tropes.  Like Pavement and Courtney Barnett, they’re smirking but ultimately gold-hearted ramshackle slacker punks.  Like the Replacements and the Strokes – and perhaps even the Cars, with whom they’ve recently landed in an unfortunate legal/logistical situation – they’re raucous, bleeding-ear populists with bashing pop anthems by the bucketload.

If that fistful of reference points and intersecting lineages sounds like a convoluted mess, not to mention a heavy stack of mantles to bear, that feels about right for a record like Teens, a gloriously tangled heap of musical and lyrical strands that doesn’t shy away from grandiosity (or far-flung cultural references.)  But it also just means there are many ways to approach and enjoy it.

It’s a choose-your-own-adventure sort of affair.  You can pore over the lyric sheet for every nuance, allusion and inter-song reference.  You can listen more haphazardly and still catch a dozen or so indelible one-liners (“if you really wanna know yourself/it will come at the price of knowing no one else”) and improbably affecting chorus hooks (“I didn’t want you to hear that shake in my voice/my pain is my own”), without much effort.  You can even ignore the words (albeit, at your peril) and just bang along to hits like the furious, Television-channeling “Vincent” or the crunch-pop anthem-for-the-ages that is “Destroyed By Hippie Powers.”  Just try not to fall asleep in the backseat.

Car Seat Headrest performs at NonCOMM on Thursday, May 19th, at 8:25 p.m. before headlining Underground Arts on Sunday, May 22nd. The sold-out NonCOMM set can be streamed live at XPN.org via VuHaus; tickets and information on the Underground Arts show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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