The Temple – Car Seat Headrest
A constant lyrical refrain of the Church of Indie/Alt-Rock from at least the 1990s onward, has been its proud outsider status – but along with that, there’s a persistent ambivalent fascination with the concept of mainstream success, and a not-so veiled desire to be granted entry by its priests into the rock-crit ‘canon’ anyway.
In Guided By Voices’ “Smothered In Hugs”, off Bee Thousand (both the band’s breakthrough album, and at the time, their intended swan song) we have these lines that speak to Robert Pollard’s disappointment at not having his artistry widely recognized:
But the judges and the saints
And the textbook committee
Decided you should be left out,
Not even mentioned
Providing a seemingly-comforting answer, we have Destroyer’s “Destroyer’s The Temple”, which also speaks of this phenomenon in religious terminology:
Don’t you mind, our children go unseen to us
The popular singers, they’re mean to us
Go find there’s joy in being barred from the temple
Though the graces sing our praise in countless catchy ways
This is essentially the struggle – internal to the artists themselves, and within their scene – that Billy Corgan simply dismissed as irrelevant, in some of the very first lines of his massive-in-every-respect Siamese Dream – notice that once again, he uses religious imagery:
‘Cause they know
Who is righteous, what is bold
Come align for the big fight to rock for you
All these angels with their wings glued on
I couldn’t help but think of these self-referential, quasi-religious appeals to the canon when listening to Car Seat Headrest’s Matador debut Teens of Style, and specifically single “Times To Die”, a simultaneously murky-yet-melodic number which amusingly namechecks the venerable indie label’s founder Chris Lombardi as deity, or indie-rock Pope (Nicene Creedence Edition):
Got to have faith in the one above me
Got to believe that Lombardi loves me
It’s a deal
I want a deal
Let’s cut a covenant
And when they took him to their temple
Oh then they fed him to their devils
And when they took him to the table
(HEY MAN WE LISTENED TO YOUR DEMOS)
They say, “kid you’re good, but do you have what it takes to be
Invited into the divine council?”
The hooks in that song kind of sneak up on you, and you later find yourself humming it unexpectedly.
Headrest main main Will Toledo is a prolific songwriter with a whole slew of self-released records already to his name, and another new album (recorded in a proper studio with a producer this time) already on the way next year.
But 2015’s Teens of Style is essentially a sort of compilation, slightly cleaning up and rearranging some of his prior self-released “greatest hits”. The bandname is a reference to the fact that a young shy (and living-at-home-or-dorm) Toledo would go record his vocals on a laptop in, you guessed it, a parked car.*
Odes to alienated anhedonia are rock-song perennials; but they rarely incorporate a scenario as depressingly-specific as a “wild” sexual dream involving a frustrated and failed attempt to view internet pornography; surrounding this quotidian detail with swirling Beach Boys-on-a-budget harmonies is like putting baroque icing on a sadness cake:
RIYL: GbV; Pavement; Destroyer; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut
Post header image: Teens of Style cover art.
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*Christmas came slightly early, as The AVClub published its annual Year In Band Names, and Car Seat Headrest made it!
The article is hilarious, and NSFW. For some reason, seeing so much bad judgement, poor taste, and delusional optimism in one place is always strangely-heartening.
Keep striving, people.
What are y’all listening to?