Celebrating a decade of Car Seat Headrest

Griffin Lowry | @griffin_lowry

On March 26, 2011, ten years ago today, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest released his second album on Bandcamp, originally title 5, but later renamed My Back is Killing Me Baby. Its lo-fi sound mixed with the DIY spirit gained a lot of attention. It was followed by a series of career-defining albums that put Toledo on the map. Not many artists had seen much success by sharing their music online before, but 10 years later and Car Seat Headrest is one of the most beloved rock bands of the modern era. I would even go as far as to say that they dominated the 2010s, making consistently great music and being an inspiration for many. Today I wish to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of this quintessential Car Seat Headrest album, by looking back at their past decade of music-making on Bandcamp. 

On May 1 2010, Toledo released a collection of 16 tracks, under the moniker “Car Seat Headrest,” onto Bandcamp. That album was simply called 1. Toledo later went on to say, “I probably would not have been able to make this album if I knew anyone was going to listen to it.” He went on to release the follow-ups to this album: 23, 4, and Little Pieces of Paper With “No” Written on Them, and a collection of b-sides, all throughout the summer and winter of 2010.

Any fan of Car Seat Headrest knows this was the beginning of an amazing career, one that started with Toledo recording his vocals in his car so that no one could hear him, and where most of the music was made in his room.

Independent Releases

How To Leave Town – October 31, 2014

How To Leave Town is Car Seat Headrest’s last independent release. In this EP, Toledo discusses themes of abandoning the past, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood, and the difficulties of creativity and musicianship. It begins with the epic 14-minute track “The Ending of Dramamine,” which displays Toledo’s incredible electronic production skills, something we had only seen in moderation beforehand, and would not see in complete form until their 2020 album, Making A Door Less Open.

Nervous Young Man – August 23, 2013

This album has always been considered the “Greatest Hits” of Car Seat Headrest despite the fact that almost none of the songs had been previously released. Will wrote these songs between the ages of 17 and 21, and the themes throughout are consistent with that age range. His growth as an artist, however, is made very apparent throughout the album. The opening track “Boxing Day” as well as “The Gun Song” both span 30 minutes total, and there are still 18 other tracks on the album. I remember where I was when I first listened to this album, and I will always appreciate the emotional vulnerability displayed throughout. 

Starving While Living – November 22, 2012

Despite being their shortest project by far, Starving While Living is a fantastic example of what makes a good EP. If any of Car Seat Headrest’s albums explore the theme of “The Duality of Man,” this one is it. 

Monomania – August 1, 2012

Monomania is the obsession over one particular person, thing, or idea. Captain Ahab in Moby Dick was monomaniacally obsessed with the White Whale. Toledo was clearly monomaniacally sulking over the loss of someone in this album. Whether it be Beck, the Cure, or even Tyler the Creator, every great artist tends to have a breakup album––Car Seat Headrest is no exception here. Toledo grieves throughout this entire album, and concludes with the track “Anchorite (Love You Very Much),” where he accepts his loss and admits “I hope that you find someone who loves you very much / and I hope that you find someone you can love just as much.”

Twin Fantasy – November 2, 2011

Toledo often cites his English literature major as an influence on his work. In Twin Fantasy, he even goes as far as to cite Mary Shelly’s book Frankenstein. In both this album and that book, the artists explore the idea of “creating a character.” Toledo struggles with the fact that he pretends to know a certain person more than he actually does, causing an unhealthy relationship. Twin Fantasy feels like the rock opera that follows the love of a couple who was “connected / at the back of the head.”

My Back Is Killing Me Baby – March 26, 2011

This album has aged like fine wine. It is the most lo-fi of all of Will Toledo’s work. It is raw, it is simple and to the point; it is angry; it is real. The emotion feels so pure throughout all of the tracks. “father, flesh in rags” is the emotional climax of the album, where Will builds upon the lyrics, “My back is killing me, baby / I don’t have any comfortable chairs / My spine will become warped / I won’t be able to stand up straight,” with an extremely catchy guitar riff that, like Toledo’s spine, becomes warped and distorted into a huge mess. In the context of the entire Car Seat Headrest discography, this album feels like a relic; a lost tape that explains so much; a beautiful look into the past.

A New Era

In 2015, Car Seat Headrest signed with Matador Records. To celebrate their past-career, they made a best-of album titled Teens of Style, which featured fan favorite songs from almost all of their Bandcamp releases. Toledo featured new members on this album, all of whom are current members of the once solo project. Teens of Style was followed up by their first studio album Teens of Denial, which is probably their most popular album in terms of numbers.

Teens of Denial would be followed up by the 2018 re-recording of their 2011 album, Twin Fantasy. The band reimagined all of the songs, replacing the lo-fi sound of the 2011 release with a more polished, studio sound. They even added entire sections to some songs, which Toledo claimed were not completely finished when released in 2011. In 2019, they released a live album called Commit Yourself Completely.

Their newest studio album, Making a Door Less Open, came out in 2020, and is kind of pointing in the direction that Car Seat Headrest might go in the future. Toledo and drummer Will Katz also collaborate together on a side project called 1 Trait Danger.

 Not many fans were very excited with the direction Car Seat Headrest started to go with Making A Door Less Open. Personally, I like the album, but it is still my least favorite in the discography, simply because its such a hard collection of albums to compete with. Toledo gifted the world with a decade’s worth of music, that will alway be enjoyed by many, including yours truly.