If, as the song “Nervous Young Inhumans” has it, “Art gets what it wants, and art gets what it deserves”, this new-old Car Seat Headrest album makes more sense than anything else in their career.
However, as a career move, coming after the unmitigated triumph of Teens of Denial, Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) could be seen as a baffling exercise. Originally released in 2011, and packaged with this rerecording under the subtitle Mirror to Mirror, Twin Fantasy was Will Toledo’s darkest, most personal album, and his greatest what-if. What if this sprawling, dense, self-recorded tome could be revisited with a full band? What if the production was better? What if They Might Be Giants sue him like The Cars did for borrowing the lyrics of “Ana Ng”?
Fans of the original, and Car Seat Headrest in general, shouldn’t worry. Toledo has long revised his own work, which would explain his vocal fondness for The Life of Pablo over the course of 2016 – it was validation from a master. Face to Face simply stands as the ultimate example of his revisionist tendencies, a project deemed so necessary to the arc of Car Seat Headrest that revisiting it was written into their contract with Matador.
Thanks to the fact that Car Seat Headrest is now a band rather than a solo recording project, there’s more spit and polish to the songs, a level of gloss that Twin Fantasy really benefits from. So the Phil Spector-nodding “My Boy (Twin Fantasy)” finally becomes the wall of sound they were destined to be, “Bodys” is now so muscular it could conceivably soundtrack a sports montage (god help us), and “Nervous Young Inhumans” is all but unrecognisable, a synth-laden disco riot, propelled by Andrew Katz’s relentless drums.
The biggest change comes in the record’s tone. In 2011, Will Toledo was 19, and the album was his mechanism of processing the end of a complex, meaningful relationship. Since hearing the new version of Twin Fantasy for the first time, I’ve been convinced the albums have the wrong subtitles.
As a direct response to a breakup, Twin Fantasy: Mirror to Mirror (the 2011 album) sees Toledo consistently reaching out to his ex in a fit of desperation, often by name, desperately seeking attention and connection and consolation. The opening-track optimism of “My Boy” (“It’ll take some time, but somewhere down the line we won’t be alone”) quickly descends into mental illness, violence, a brief delusion of swagger and ultimately a near-biblical downfall. “For falling in love too hard, you’ll never set foot in this town again” runs one particularly overwrought line from the tortured epic “Famous Prophets (Minds)”. That line doesn’t make the cut on the new version.
By contrast, Twin Fantasy: Face to Face is no longer an album about a break-up…well, no longer just an album about a break-up. Instead, it’s a hall of mirrors. There were already recurring motifs on the old record–lines and melodies which recur sporadically. However, as part of a seven-year-old diary, every lyric (the old and the new ones) become reflections on how Will has grown up, the rapid ascent of his band’s career, and even the original album itself. Like any writer worth his salt, Toledo has found a way to make Twin Fantasy an album about more than just one subject, despite keeping the majority of the words in tact; unsurprisingly, he knows this too, claiming on the album's final line "These are only lyrics now."
Even the smirking spoken aside in “Bodys” – “Is it the chorus yet? No! It’s just a building of the verse, so when the chorus does come, it’ll be more rewarding” – has the self-assurance of someone who has written enough songs to know that trick really does make the chorus more rewarding. Just like anyone looking back on a doomed relationship, time has taught the narrator a few things, and the further away Toledo got from the breakup, the closer he got to the heart of the album.
That is to say, after seven years, Will Toledo gets what he wants, and Twin Fantasy gets what it deserves.