Will Toledo has come a long way from dancing in his college dorm room to “Something Soon,” first released on My Back Is Killing Me Baby in 2011 and re-released again on Teens of Style in 2015. It’s been a while, too, since I last danced in a dorm room to “Something Soon” in angst, shouting along with Toledo — angry about everything, nothing, but still something.
Since Car Seat Headrest’s last full-length release in 2016 with Teens of Denial (outside of the re-recording of Twin Fantasy in 2018 and the bands’ live album), genres have shifted towards accepting and experimenting with electronic, hip hop, and R&B styles. Indie rock has been tested, the commitment to lo-fi purism altered by hyper-production, a revival of synths, and a push to adapt and evolve, if not to conform. But Toledo, feeling a pulse change, ran with the evolution and took to his own experimentation—resulting in Making a Door Less Open, a new alter-ego, and the side project 1 Trait Danger.
Making a Door Less Open runs in a new direction for Toledo and Car Set Headrest, allowing Andrew Katz (drummer) to play with the production and apply his experience with EDM. As “Weightlifters” introduces the album, we hear a familiar Toledo-style droning screech that is complimented by a series of synths, a surprising new sound. The album, though, does not fully depart from Toledo’s original style of rock, which songs like “Deadlines (Hostile)” and “Hollywood” hold onto with their more heavy-headed and raw feel. Meanwhile, tracks such as “Can’t Cool Me Down” and “Martin” fuse styles together, contrasting Toledo’s very 90s-rock aggressive and droll voice alongside very 80s-synth beats with a catchy twist.
“Deadlines (Thoughtful),” however, captures a breaking point in this collection of new songs from Car Seat Headrest – embodying a struggle between the many styles trying to be adopted at once in the album. Underneath the layers of production is a track that could appear on any prior album: an indie rock headbanger that is depressing but cathartic. By the bridge of the song, we hear Toledo screeching, but drowned by the clean pounding of a synth. Alone, the song would exist as a great experiment, but on the album, it builds a tension in the cohesion and harmony. Similarly, “Hymn (Remix),”—which appears on the vinyl as a different recording and at a different point on the LP—struggles to exist between styles.
In Toldeo’s own words, he wanted to produce “an album full of songs that had a special energy, each one unique and different in its vision.” And so, he did. Making a Door Less Open, in many ways is an experiment, progressive and signaling a shift in the genre. What could have been an exciting evolution, however, did not fully come to life. But as Toledo is one to revisit and revise past work, we can expect this to be only the first version of something greater to come, and soon, he’ll have us dancing in our rooms again.