Car Seat Headrest opens some doors, closes others on ‘Making a Door Less Open’

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

Car Seat Headrest is known for straddling the boundary between lo-fi and classic indie, with its early work even incorporating bits of emo. Released May 1, Making a Door Less Open, the band’s first record since 2016, shows Car Seat Headrest’s efforts to toggle with its identity as a powerhouse indie band. While the band attempts to incorporate more unexpected beats that stray from its early guitar-heavy sound, its newest album is ultimately one of select great hits and a few misses.

The starting track, “Weightlifters,” begins with a strange droning but builds up into the band’s classic distorted rock sound with its fuzzy guitar and deep vocals. In a way, it symbolizes how the group’s style of music is changing, with an increased incorporation of synths and electronic beats, but it isn’t able to properly distance itself from the band’s original primarily rock compositions. While the rest of the song is decent from its more melodic beat structure, the introduction to the track, unfortunately, is not a good sign for the band’s musical transition.

The next few songs continue to boast unique lo-fi beats, but they simply do not capture the charm or longing indie nature of Car Seat Headrest’s previous work, a style that is beloved by many of its fans. However, these tracks do feature lead singer Will Toledo’s distinct raw voice, especially highlighted on “Can’t Cool Me Down,” a song that is one of the more successful attempts to revamp the band’s sound by melding the familiar vocals with synth-pop elements.

“Deadlines (Hostile)” marks a shift back to Car Seat Headrest’s familiar sound with Toledo’s reflective and pondering lyrics. “Oh, temptation/ I could be a part of you,” he sings as the song builds up to the chorus. The range of vocals in the track is mesmerizing — once the listener has fallen into a trance with Toledo’s soft delivery, he suddenly interjects with a scream. It’s an effective way to keep things from becoming too one-note.

Some songs, however, are a hard miss, such as parts of “Weightlifters” and “Hymn,” an instrumental track with badly composed breakdowns that simply do the track no favors. While musical experimentation isn’t meant to have bounds, it should still produce enjoyable music, and “Hymn” strays further from this notion with every listen.

But the band makes up for failed EDM mixes like “Hymn” with songs such as “Martin” and “Life Worth Missing” — breezy, effortless and melodic tracks that evoke feelings of deep nostalgia, sans much electropop influence. Then, there are also songs like “Deadlines (Thoughtful)” that carry the unusual electronic beats well.

Making a Door Less Open ends weakly with “Famous,” a song that sounds disjointed and is another disappointing effort to grow out of the band’s reliance on standard guitars, drums and bass. The track seems to have potential, but this is quickly lost as the beats unravel into anticlimactic breakdowns and riffs. If the song had more of Toledo’s emotional vocals, a stronger guitar or simply a more cohesive beat structure, it would have been another successful iteration of Car Seat Headrest’s new marrying of melancholy indie rock and EDM.

Making a Door Less Open is a mediocre effort at a departure from the band’s most popular releases, including 2016’s Teens of Denial. But the band, instead of properly reinventing itself, seems to give itself a false sense of a new reality while relying heavily on its old sounds to keep the album alive.

The album does have a good mix of classic guitar-driven indie and wacky, new electronic sounds. But what makes Making a Door Less Open is the relaxed beats and Toledo’s blasé yet intense voice, which are obvious facets of Car Seat Headrest’s quintessential records. The record certainly has some real gems, but unfortunately for the band, those gems are mostly reminiscent of the group’s earlier work and not an innovative approach to restructuring the band’s sound.

Car Seat Headrest makes an admirable attempt to branch out, but the band shouldn’t have messed with a highly successful formula. Making a Door Less Open may have been intended to bring a new dimension to Car Seat Headrest’s discography, but the record ultimately finds more success in the band’s recognizable indie roots.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected].