The New Abnormal, the latest album by the Strokes, released a few weeks ago, was yet another disappointment in a long line of disappointments. Thank god for Car Seat Headrest, the band the Strokes might have been. 

That’s probably an oversimplistic comparison. And an unfair one to Will Toledo’s band. Where the Strokes repeatedly fail in their attempts to expand their sound, Car Seat Headrest have managed to do so on their (at times) bonkers new album. Car Seat Headrest has managed to be prolific and maintain critical acclaim – something Casablancas et al. could only hope to pull off.  

Since 2010, Car Seat Headrest have released 17 albums. Early, self-released, albums featured less traditional song structures and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Later albums feature memorable and better known tracks like ‘Drunk Driver/Killer Whale‘. 

On Making a Door Less Open, the band, led by founder and singer Will Toledo, has departed from their traditional indie sound that featured a regular sprinkling of electronic instruments. 

Toledo, unusually for a musician, acknowledges that listening habits have changed. Empowered by Spotify and its mega-playlists, fewer people are listening to albums in their entirety. Given that acceptance, the band have released an album which is a collection of songs which the group described as each having a “special energy” with differing visions underpinning them. Translation: they’ve released an album with a load of songs that don’t naturally fit together. It’s no bad thing. 

The album opener, “Weightlifters,” is punchy and bright. Toledo’s drawl high in the mix above electronic drum patterns and occasional guitars piercing like lightning. A delicate guitar line midway through signals the track comes together. The slow, bright, build of the song giving way to a frenetic two and a half minutes cramming in three verses and two repeats of the chorus. It’s a good opener. 

“Making A Door Less Open” is at its best when juxtaposing Toledo’s drawling delivery against bright tracks. One of the singles off the album, “Martin” being a good illustration (while also having a delightful bit of trumpet joining towards the end).  

The high point of the album has to be “Hollywood”. A mad track which takes aim at the LA Neighbourhood with scathing lyrics. In particular, “They don’t talk about the / 12 year olds on pills waking up in beds of big producers”. No wonder the delightfully immature chorus repeats “Hollywood makes me wanna puke”. Toledo’s disdain is visceral. In the first verse, he puts down aspirant actors with the arch lines “You’ve got a face that you think / Will last as long as the Sphinx / But the poster’s painted over in a week if it stinks”. It’s the peak of the album. 

For long time fans of the band, I imagine there will be disquiet. The influence of electronic music on this album is hefty. It’s not subtle and is an absorption of a whole new style. The seventh track on the LP, “Deadlines (Thoughtful)”, takes the EDM sound to its most extreme. Kicking off at pace, it sounds like a Hot Chip track. But the thing that draws you back is Toledo’s drawl. A heavy bassline, no guitars of any note, synths in their place. 

If there’s one track which lets the album down, it’s the closing track “famous”. It’s just a bit “meh” and adds little to the record. It’s the weakest example of the band trying to harness the sound of electronic music. Boring and unmemorable.

Toledo says that he is, on this album and when touring it live, playing a masked character called TRAIT. Perhaps he is. But what the band are definitely doing is trying bold, exciting things. Introducing new sounds and challenging their fans. And given they’ll likely release a new album next year, why not. 

Maybe the band will get back to pure guitar band music. This could be a quick detour. On the whole, it works. And if it doesn’t work for you, then just whack “Hollywood” on repeat. 

Track Pick: Hollywood