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Car Seat Headrest

12/21/16

Another year, another end-of-the-year list. I’m getting in the habit of these things now, and also getting familiar with the sense of pressure and dread at shuffling my favorite music around.

Meriting a spot on this means it was music I couldn’t tear myself away from, that I binge-listened to on dull afternoons, evening walks or morning workouts. I turned to these albums when I couldn’t turn to anything else, when their hooks and chord progressions ran their way through my mind all day, or when I needed to hear that heartbreaking line one more time. I felt like I listened to more new music in 2016 than any other, mostly due to a reviewing side-hustle as well as getting Spotify premium on my phone, so narrowing it all down to 10 was hard. Obviously this year also saw incredible, groundbreaking releases from the likes of Bowie and Beyonce, and that song from The Chainsmokers hooked me as well as anybody, but these are the records that really resonated with me. I hope when I listen to them in 2017 and in years to come, I’ll be able to close my eyes and remember the place I was in when I first heard them, blanketed in sunshine settling into my Left Coast skin.

10) Kevin Devine – Instigator


One of my favorite songwriters, who in my opinion just keeps getting better with time. I regret that I was unable to catch him on tour this year, as the rocking and rolling songs on Instigator promise a great show. But I love it for walks around the city and morning jumpstarts, too, as the way Devine phrases his thoughts, feelings and societal observations are ripe for pondering. Though KD likely has one of the biggest catalogs of artists of his caliber/generation, I’d say that Instigator is a standout that could be presented to show a new listener what he’s all about.

9) Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings


Ms.Lambert takes the crown for my favorite record to sing this year. Though it was a fourth-quarter release, I haven’t stopped listening to this record since the day it came out, and it pushed me back toward regular guitar practice. Lambert really tells a story, and gives so much context to heartbreak, growing up, moving on and self-exploration, all with a wry smile and whiskey glass by her side. For that, and for the bold vulnerability, I bow down.

8) Moose Blood – Blush


These guys came out of seemingly nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite UK rock groups — and Blush burst forth this year as a collection of edgy heartfelt anthems. Nothing better than seeing them live at The Fonda opening for The Wonder Years, too — I love their cynicism in spite of youth, and their energy in spite of the cynicism. I love their obvious romanticism on songs like “Knuckles” and “Honey” and the aching regret on tracks like “Glow” and “Sway.” Also like how all the song titles are one word. Blush is as upbeat as you could want from a 2016 pop punk band, and as smooth and sweet as its namesake.

7) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial


Hearing Will Toledo’s voice for the first time is like hearing a memory you can’t place — you don’t know where, but you swear you’ve heard it before. He’s just that ubiquitous. As a brilliant guitar player and subtle, wry lyricist, Toledo is chock full of talent and has a substantial following behind him. This year’s Teens of Denial was a stunner, in its own depressing and over-it way. Gems like “Vincent” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” show how hard Car Seat Headrest can rock without abandoning pensive sensibilities, one of my favorite lines rock musicians can walk. Toledo has tapped into a raw rock and roll vibe that used to only exist in bands you had to go backwards to find, but this record showed how alive and well the genre can be.

6) Bon Iver – 22, A Million


God this album! I don’t have it on vinyl yet, but of all the records on this list, it’s the one I have my eye on the most. Justin Vernon has established himself as the kind of musician who pushes boundaries, and this eagerly awaited album shows that he does not make waves for their own sake, but rather because he has developed something to say. They heavy reliance on vocal manipulation and other-wordly echoes made 22, A Million an unforgettable listen, if only because it sounds like *nothing* else out there. But it has the same beauty as Bon Iver’s breakthrough work, with a few more levels of abstraction thrown in. I fell in love from the start, and this is now one of my favorite “focus” records when my mind starts running away with me. “8(circle)” is my favorite, although I’m probably not alone there. Three cheers for artistic expression, and those stay their path.

5) Joyce Manor- Cody


If I had to recommend an album for anyone to listen to this year, it’d be Joyce Manor. Hands down. For me, they’ll be up there with TWY and Brand New, carrying that mantle in their own sharp style. But we already knew that; the best thing about Cody is the way they’ve harnessed their aggression and thrash into polished hooks and climatic builds. “Last You Heard of Me” was my anthem upon release of the single, and it exemplifies the meaning and message these guys can cram into what on the surface one excepts to be a silly little pop punk song. Joyce doesn’t take themselves too seriously, which I love, but there’s nothing silly or little about them at this point.

4) The Hotelier – Goodness


Deep and resonant, heartfelt and literary….The Hotelier’s much -anticipated follow-up did not disappoint, nor did it simply satiate. Goodness is lush and full and while it doesn’t have the same sadness as their breakthrough record Home, Like No Place Is There, it has the same existential darkness and rock-solid progressions. Songs like “Piano Player” and “Soft Animal” channel the turmoil that we’ve come to know and love from The Hotelier, while pushing musical boundaries with different kinds of builds and busts. There’s a lot of depth here, and the shower of critical reception on Goodness gave me hope that it was recognized by not just niche audiences but the music world at large. After playing this album to death upon release, I can still put it on and get lost in it — damn right, they did it again.

3) Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues


Getting to listen to Integrity Blues for the first time felt like getting a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. You knew what they were up to, you knew they were doing OK, but you hadn’t heard the ins and outs yet. With this record, the singles were promising, but a part of me held my breath thinking this could be an album full of filler. Not so! Integrity Blues is likely the best album JEW’s put out since Chase This Light, and though my adoration for Invented is a very real thing, the songs on this record are true and honest alternative rock that embrace maturity in melody and meaning…the closer, “Pol Roger,” is easily one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time, and not just for those sweet, sweet Jim Atkins harmonies.

2) case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs


This album got under my skin so quick, it was like falling in love at first sight. I think I read about the famed, talented trio just a couple days after the album dropped, and got right in on the ground floor with it. And it blew me away, with its stunning harmonies, poetic effort and lush sonic landscape. There’s not a song on this record that doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air to me. There’s a sweetness and a strength, an assertive foot forward and knowing shy smile. Every song paints a picture of people, places and things, and eloquently describes intricate emotions with excellent harmonies and beautiful, lithe guitar parts. “I Want To Be Here,” “Supermoon” and “Best Kept Secret” all became instant classics for me, and the perfect songs to soundtrack my first summer in LA.

1) Pinegrove – Cardinal


I had trouble figuring out what was my favorite of my favorites, but I think I knew it had to be Pinegrove. I made an instant connection with Cardinal for its unique sound and literary qualities, but the album’s staying power really went above and beyond anything else this year. Pinegrove was the easiest band for me to bring up when talking music with friends, as I knew they were likely to be a spot-on suggestion for anyone who likes alt-rock, folk-rock or anything in the indie vein. When you hear songs like “Aphasia” and “New Friends,” you’re struck by not only their honesty but their plaintive innocence, as if you’re having a conversation with a thoughtful friend about your lives and feelings. That familiarity makes Pinegrove instantly accessible, even before you get into their slightly quirky and innovative ways of structuring songs. Seeing them at The Echo was one of my most memorable concert experiences of the year, too, if only because the way they layered up their sound with extra synth & auxiliary really brought their songs to life. There’s a comfort in knowing that if I heard this album when I was an emo teenager, I would’ve loved it for the same reasons I do now — and it gives me hope that today’s emo teenagers are being introduced to quality indie rock. Pinegrove also delivered one of my most definitive favorite lyrical truisms of the year — “I am outta my goddamn mind and out to California,” which sums it up as well as anything. So looking forward to continuing to wrap myself up in Cardinal, and see where this band goes next.

And as a little bonus, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of the year, added in no particular order than how I remembered them. I kept it to one per artist, off of albums that dropped this calendar year (so you can expect that new Ryan Adams’ tune here next year). Looking over it, I’m really struck by the variety of the artists, and how despite their differences, they all managed to strike the same chord in me.

7/6/16

Made a list of my favorite albums of the year so far. Everybody else is doing it! Went with 11 instead of 10, because all of these albums have been really great to listen to in my mind. My biggest impression: The alt-rock offerings this year are truly profound and poignant albums, and the alt-country/folk female contingent is killing it.

Also, with upcoming scheduled releases from the likes of Moose Blood, Blind Pilot, Angel Olson, Local Natives, Taking Back Sunday, Yellowcard and hell, maybe even Brand New, a year-end list will prove to be quite competitive.

  1. The Hotelier – Goodness
  2. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
  3. case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs
  4. Pinegrove – Cardinal
  5. Deftones – Gore
  6. Brian Fallon – Painkillers
  7. Radiohead- A Moon Shaped Pool
  8. Empty Houses – Daydream
  9. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
  10. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are beautiful yet so unaware of it
  11. Daughter – Not to Disappear

Special shout-out to “Best Kept Secret” for being my new favorite song about California and featuring beautiful Chinese strings.

Merits more listens/honorable mentions:
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
letlive. – If I’m the Devil…
Panic! At the Disco- Death of a Bachelor
Beyonce – Lemonade
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Sara Watkins – Young In All The Wrong Ways
Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to be Nowhere
Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat

“I talked about my misery, you called it pain of pain
How we light a pile on until we go insane
‘Til we go insane
Until we go insane
You’re the best kept secret in Silver Lake.”
~Best Kept Secret
case/lang/veirs, case/lang/veirs

4/24/16

“Biting my clothes to keep from screaming
Taking pills to keep from dreaming
I want to break something important
I want to kick my dad in the shins

I was referring to the present in past tense
It was the only way that I could survive it
I want to close my head in the car door
I want to sing this song like I’m dying
Heavy boots on my throat, I need
I need somethin soon, I need somethin soon
I can’t talk to my folks, I need
I need somethin soon, I need somethin soon
All of my fingers are froze, I need
I need somethin soon, I need somethin soon
Only one change of clothes, I need
I need somethin soon, I need somethin soon
My head is, my head is, my head is…”

~Something Soon
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Style

It’s easy to find good music – and it’s easy to be impressed, or enjoy something you hear for the first time. I don’t buy it when people say music too homogenized and prepackaged and overproduced these days — so many new releases are these intricate blends of modern sounds, and it’s an adventure to see what trends feed of the last. Somewhere in all that, the real authentic stuff is there, and occasionally you’ll make the rare find of an artist who continues to wow you to that same level over and over again, where you keep listening and discover layer upon layer and layer of who they are, and where these songs are coming from.

For me, Car Seat Headrest is becoming one of those artists. Every song I hear from this guy I like more than the last, every performance I watch leaves me wanting more. Will Toledo’s songs are more confessional rock than folk, but they have a storytelling narrative nonetheless. Musically, there’s a lo-fi, grungy vibe, but his chord choices are poppy and melodic enough to carry the occasional hook (no better exemplified than his biggest single, “Something Soon”), and these surf-rock style solos.

I love Toledo’s emphasis on his anxieties and insanities. For this, I will listen over and over again, because he’s smart and observing without whining. He’s carrying indie rock’s torch in its natural direction, and in the process divulging so much of himself with these little details about his self-image (“If I could split me in two/I would just take my fists/So I could beat up the rest of me”) and inner monologues. His songs have a way of driving forward without getting bogged down in the depressive, though, due mostly to these wailing guitar parts and pop rock rhythms.

I think Toledo’s songs, notably on “Teens of Style”, are solid reflections of the early 21st century teen/20-something experience. While some artists are direct about this, referencing texts and selfies to the point of making it a gimmick, Toledo cuts to the chase of loneliness and the longing that this time produces, and the unending, seemingly inescapable cycle of dreaming and flailing and failing that’s supposed to provide whatever happiness there is to be achieved in this great wide world of ours. It is one of the best rock albums I have discovered in my recent memory, perfectly weird and wistful and wandering.

I’m so excited for the upcoming “Teens of Denial” to get a fresh taste of an album approach. Car Seat Headrest has a discography that dates back three years and shows a real maturation — there plenty to choose from and each release has its own style, whether its production room tweaks or scratchy-record style harmonies. You can tell Toledo just grinds out songwriting, toying with new techniques along the way. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the recent single, called “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” and I think Toledo is pushing himself in a bigger musical direction and better off for it. I think this is a sound worth paying attention to.

“All of my friends are getting married
All of my friends are right with God
All of my friends are making money
But art gets what it wants and art gets what it deserves

I think I’m gonna build a giant hotel
Lest we be scattered, I’ll stack it sky-high
It’s not symbolic, it’s just human nature
Under the foundations, there is a graveyard

We’ve all had better times to die
We’ve all seen better times to die
We’ve all had better times to die
We all had better times to die.
~Time to Die
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Style

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