Making a Door Less Open Review
On Friday Car Seat Headrest released their new album, Making a Door Less Open, their fourth since signing with Matador Records, and the band’s first full length project of new material since 2016. It’s worth noting that that 2016 project, Teens of Denial, would be my favourite album ever where it not for the fact that it came out so recently - give it a few more years and it’ll easily take the number one spot. I love everything Will Toledo and the rest of CSH have produced to date, and their output while on Matador has set the bar very, very high. So when I heard that MADLO was coming, naturally my expectations were in the clouds, and precariously so.
When I heard the first few singles, I was actually really worried - CSH means so much to me, and are a big part of my identity in some ways (some of my friends roll their eyes at my mere mention of them, sick of me being incapable of having an entire conversation without bringing them up at least once), and if I didn’t like this album, it would be a bitter pill to swallow. The first single, Can’t Cool Me Down didn’t exactly blow me away, but I still had hope, it was very reminiscent of 2014’s How to Leave Town, which featured a more stripped-back version of Toledo’s iconic lofi indie DIY sound, with some electronic elements too. MADLO’s next single, Martin was again kind-of-OK-ish but didn’t blow me away, and seemed to be more in the mould of Teens of Denial’s tracklist but lacking in energy. Hollywood similarly seemed to lack cohesion and once again didn’t seem to fit with the style of the other songs. Will had said prior to the album’s release that he wanted to move away from the traditional album model, and this was more “a collection of songs” than an “album” per se, which marks a shift in direction from his previous projects usually having well-defined concepts and a clear sense of style. All in all, I was a little worried that this collection of songs was going to be too eclectic, too erratic, and lose too much of what I’d love about CHS’s previous records in the process of trying to evolve into a more mature sound for the band.
And fortunately I was wrong - a pleasant reminder of how much I love being wrong. Hollywood grew on me a lot, as did Martin. The album itself is clearly a significant step in a different direction, but I think it works. While Will is often referred to as one of indie rock’s few remaining darlings, he is obviously not the sort of artist who would be content to stay in his lane for his whole career (doubly so if it were only at the behest of his fans and critics), and has talked previously at length about his often surprising influences. Having produced so many albums that broadly fit the label of “lofi indie bedroom rock”, I don’t think I can blame him, even if I am the biggest fan of that particular aforementioned, pretense-laden genre. Between his documented love of hip hop (CSH frequently cover Frank Ocean and Outkast, among others), and the record having a lot more of Andrew Katz’s presence on it (who largely has a background in EDM), the album is a potent cocktail with the aim of producing a broadly pop record. Fortunately it works - I enjoyed hearing more of Andrew, both in that he contributes a lot more vocals, and also his hand is evident in the production and some of the songwriting. CSH clearly couldn’t keep writing angsty coming-of-age songs for ever, and Andrew certainly helps the band’s sound to mature as he plays the yin to Will’s yang.
There’s still plenty of the old CSH on the album - wailing guitars and Will’s wailing vocals (he appears to have accidentally learned to sing at some point in his career and now has to deliberately sing badly in order to retain his signature cracked falsetto sound), catchy riffs and introspective lyrics. But now it’s blended with elements of hip hop and EDM (one of the tracks even uses the same instrumental as a 1 Trait Danger song), and actually I think it works surprisingly well. It’s not my favourite CSH album and I don’t think it will get there any time soon, but given how much I usually struggle to enjoy a band’s new work following a departure from the sounds of their early work, CSH have done well, and I think laid a good foundation for bigger and better things as part of the pop landscape in the future.
Overall 8.5/10 - solid, but unlikely to be my album of the year.