For how outlandish of a name Car Seat Headrest is and how inaccessible some of their music feels, a lot of their music is down to earth. The common themes of love and loneliness we see in most of
the popular music today are in their music, yet a lot of the lyricism in Car Seat Headrest’s music hits close
to home. Singer/songwriter Will Toledo, who produced and wrote the group’s first few albums solo
(including this one), makes the tracks personal and emotional. Musically, the sound is unrefined and
complex, which adds to the emotion already there. And the best album that represents these qualities,
and my favorite album in their discography, is 2014’s How to Leave Town.
From the get-go, the listener is slowly drawn into the album and prepared for what they are about to listen to. The first track, “The Ending of Dramamine” features a five-minute instrumental intro and immediately after shifts to a simple synth track and introspection. Toledo’s thoughts are simple and blunt: “I don’t hate myself, I tolerate myself, I wish I was someone else”. These straightforward lines cut deep and fit perfectly with the spacey synths. By the end of the track, the song transforms into an amalgamation of distortion, scratching, and banging as the song closes with chaos. This first track is just a glimpse of what is to come.
The dichotomy of the outlandish, layered instrumentation and the realistic lyrics is fully realized throughout the album. “Kimochi Warui” continues with the synths and offers some self-examination as Toledo comes to the realization that his role models are fake and moving on from them. “Beast Monster Thing” in the same way talks about how lonely Toledo has become as his friends leave him and he remembers his youth. The lyrics go in circles as he gets trapped in his thoughts, in contrast to other songs that progress lyrically but have repetitive instrumentation. Both songs feature thoughts all of us have struggled with and can relate to, which may be why they work so well.
How to Leave Town also features the loud and rambunctious songs that fans are used to. “You’re in Love with Me” with hypnotic guitars and bass and repetitive lyrics draws the listener into the funky tune and is a great break from the somber themes on other tracks. The chorus “you’re in love with me” repeats until the end, Meanwhile, “Hey, Space Cadet” has a long build-up to a rewarding climax, tying up the loose ends of the album and ending on a high note. Toledo finally accepts his self-imposed loneliness even if he does not have all the answers. These songs break up the monotony that can come from the other song’s hypnotic patterns and bring us back to reality.
I think that everyone can find something to relate to in these songs, and not in the way that people have an idea of love from the pop songs of their youth. People can relate to the lost love, the loneliness, or even the misunderstandings that Toledo experiences throughout the album. Music can resonate with people in different ways through the instrumentation, the lyrics, or the feelings and thoughts drawn from the listening experience, and How to Leave Town hits on all of those. If you’re feeling down or lonely for any reason, maybe this album can give you some comfort.