Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest is a fantastic album, and also an album that exists in a way that I have never experienced before. Twin Fantasy is a remake of an album of the same name that front-man Will Toledo put on Bandcamp in 2011 at the ripe age of 19. The album accrued a passionate following in the years after its release, but, for Toledo, it was never a “finished” album. Listening to it, one can understand why he would feel that way. Self-produced in GarageBand, the original album exists under a lo-fi smog. It was like if you heard a band playing some cool songs, but you were hearing them play through a baby monitor.
This effect is what many listeners, myself included, found endearing about the album. The amateurishly produced songs, as well the auteur approach, created a sense of intimacy as Toledo sang euphoric and devastating songs detailing the beginning and end of a relationship. Now we have Twin Fantasy in 2018, and so much more has been accomplished than a simple clean-up. Following the album’s reflective and dualistic form, Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) (as the 2018 version is called) and Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror) (as the 2011 version has been retroactively titled) form an experience where the two albums are in conversation with each other thematically. Each version can certainly be enjoyed by itself, but when experienced together, they create an emotional arc informed by their 7-year gap.
Will Toledo has said that he feels differently about the personal events that vaguely informed the album’s dramatic love story, saying that he no longer sees his own story as a tragedy. Mirror to Mirror certainly feels like it was performed by a 19-year-old who believed he was living a tragedy. The lyrics are simultaneously personal and grand in scale, and Toledo’s untrained adolescent voice had the fervor of the hopelessly heartbroken. They are left mostly unchanged in Face to Face, besides a handful of poignant exceptions, which is just fine as they are as thoughtful, witty, and earnest as they were in 2011. Face to Face creates through its production the notion of the current-day Toledo looking back, taking stock of his experience, and making peace with it. This idea is also conveyed in the opposing titles of the albums: If you put a mirror to a mirror, an infinite reflection is created, a phenomenon not unlike the bottomless solipsism of a teenager experiencing unrequited love. But when put face to face with the object of your heartbreak, there is the possibility of emotional resolution.
Catharsis is achieved by the excellent band Toledo works with to bring his songs to sonic fruition. Drums that used to sound like they were being played on stiff mattresses are now sharp and explosive thanks to Andrew Katz; Ethan Ives lends a second guitar that fleshes out melodies in creative and interesting ways, and Seth Dalby is as reliable a bass player as you’d ever want. Though there are only 4 members in the band, the songs are massive and expressive. “Beach Life-In-Death” sounds like a dive into angst-hell as guitars upon guitars are layered on top of each other over the course of 13 minutes. “Bodys,” my favorite song on the album, begins with a synth and a drum machine that builds into a danceable, shout-along anthem that describes the drunk, hormonal glee of dancing with someone your body likes being around. “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys),” the final song on the album, features a grainy organ that makes the song sound like a 16mm film, and reinforces the cyclical feel of the album by being backed by the same drum beat found on the first song.
The last line of “Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)” captures the entire narrative created by Mirror to Mirror and Face to Face: “When I come back, you’ll still be here.” When I first heard this on Mirror to Mirror, I interpreted that as meaning the narrator saw the object of his affection as something he couldn’t escape. But when I heard Toledo sing those same words on Face to Face, a new meaning was somehow prescribed: time erased the pain, and only the love remains, safe in a place of his design. And when background vocals come in to respond with, “When you come back, I’ll still be here,” I felt the sentiment flowing both ways.