What does Will Toledo — the mastermind of the ascending rock combo Car Seat Headrest — do for an encore after releasing one of the top albums of 2016, Teens of Denial (top 5 in Rolling Stone, number one for me)? With the future in front of him, he’s looking backwards — in the form of a remake of his 2011 album Twin Fantasy.
Before signing to Matador, he was a Bandcamp wunderkind with eight releases under his belt. One of them, Twin Fantasy, tells the quasi-autobiographic story of a failed relationship and has amassed a cult following, but to Toledo’s ears, he has said, “I kind of felt that these were demos I was recording when I was doing the original thing. I felt like I could re-record it better.”
So that’s exactly what he’s done. Toledo went back into the studio with his amazing band of Seth Dalby (bass), Ethan Ives (guitar) and Andrew Katz (drums), put some muscle behind his solo bedroom recording and reimagined his gay magnum opus. This 2018 version of Toledo’s 19-year-old juvenilia (released, in combination, with the original recording) is a vibrant color photograph of a monochrome negative.
From the opening plaint of “My boy, we don’t see each other much” from “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” though the mass of experience of “those two brothers / those two lovers / and their smooth-cocked adventures” in closing track “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” Toledo captures a love that might not be his first but that’s as scarring and unforgettable as Elio and Oliver in Call Me By Your Name.
Musically, he’s an old soul, as inspired by David Bowie and James Brown as he is by Frank Ocean (the latter two he namechecks in “Cute Thing”). Yet as a lyricist the dew is still on the rose with Twin Fantasy, capturing all the push-pull of gay love for young indie kids everywhere.
Toledo is both young enough and also wise enough to let drop the most vulnerable couplet in the raging single “Nervous Young Inhumans”: “most of the time that I use the word ‘you’ well you know that I’m mostly singing about you” and his band is muscular enough to turn the biological dance at the heart of “Bodys” into hip-shaking fuck music when it reaches its chorus.
And though I wish he’d work on new material while he’s at the peak of his prowess, I can also settle for a stopgap as powerful as what he’s achieved here in exploring a love (and music) that’s as important to him as it no doubt will now be to a larger audience of gay boys and rock lovers everywhere.