In 2011, Will Toledo, the man behind the band Car Seat Headrest, released an album called Twin Fantasy. Uploaded with little fanfare to his Bandcamp page, it was one of eight albums released over the course of a three-year span that garnered the attention of the indie label Matador Records. Seven years later, he rerecorded the album and gave it a slightly new name: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face). A tenacious perfectionist, Toledo never saw the original version as a finished product — or, as he put it in a recent Q&A, “When I’m working on something and start thinking ‘This is shit,’ I just try to figure out a way to make it not shit.” This time around, it just took a few years longer than expected to get there.
The album loosely follows a dysfunctional relationship the musician was in at the time, and all the messiness that comes with first love. It is an audacious work of queer indie rock that showcases some of Toledo’s best songwriting, and is by far the strongest of his pre-Matador releases.
Upon its initial release, the album began circulating on online forums. Listeners on r/indieheads and /mu/ — notoriously volatile music threads on reddit and 4chan, respectively — took to the record. To this day, fans dissect and discuss the original version of Twin Fantasy, and hundreds of mentions of the album are littered through threads about favorite albums and underrated gems. The record holds particular resonance for queer fans: On a thread about the album’s overarching narrative, users discuss how the record’s discussion of a same-sex relationship feels true to their own lives; in an AMA with Toledo from last year, multiple users prefaced their questions by telling him how much Twin Fantasy means to them.
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) sounds like Guided by Voices or the Strokes rewritten from a queer point of view; aside from Toledo’s voice carrying the same intonation — or lack thereof — of Julian Casablancas circa 2001, he sings about getting fucked up and finding love in the haze in the same way that Casablancas used to — like someone desperately looking for intimacy while feigning cool-guy nihilism. In an alternate universe “Healthy minds make sexy bodies / Let us touch so much of ourselves together” could have been a Casablancas line.
Twin Fantasy stands out in Toledo’s opus because of the way it perfectly synthesizes his sharp wit with genuinely affecting emotional displays. In both its 2011 and 2018 incarnations, it feels like Toledo’s most holistically formed body of work. The fact that none of its songs were included on Teens of Style, a compilation of rerecorded Bandcamp tracks that served as his first release for Matador, is intentional; Toledo had it written into his contract that he could update Twin Fantasy after delivering his first album of new material.
Toledo conceptualized the album as a complete work “in the vein of poetry,” but the lyrics of the original Twin Fantasy are often buried underneath layers of instrumentation and production. It makes sense that he wanted to revisit it. The new version is busier and louder than any other Car Seat Headrest album has ever been, but Toledo’s lyrics are always high in the mix, regardless of what else is happening in the song. This is an album that always deserved clarity, and the new production reframes the intent of the original songs. When Toledo initially sang “Don’t Worry, you and me won’t be alone no more” on “Sober to Death,” it felt tinged with irony; he was, literally, alone. Now, surrounded by a full band, it feels hopeful.
The record still plays out like it was written in the throes of tumultuous love. It’s far too messy not to have been. You don’t make a 13-minute behemoth like “Beach Life-in-Death” when you’re looking back at a long-buried relationship. That track sounds pretty close to the original version. It is still a song about everything. It is still split into three parts, and it still switches between hyperspecific dispatches and incomprehensible abstractions, channeling the uncertainty and terror of a new relationship while planting moments of tenderness — trying to come out to friends, wondering what to call the person you’re dating — among wordy statements like “My soul yearns for a fugitive from the laws of nature.” It oscillates between patches of quiet and loud before reaching a peak about halfway through, when Toledo finally screams, “I don’t want to go insane! I don’t want to have schizophrenia!”
Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) feels of a piece with Blood Visions, the violent opus of Memphis garage prodigy Jay Reatard, who died in 2010, just as his career was taking off. A song cycle about a man who murders his family and girlfriend, Blood Visions is uniquely compelling in the way it portrays obsession and mania. While there are no violent interludes on Twin Fantasy (save a moment on “Beach Life-in-Death” where Toledo finds himself trying to kill his boyfriend), the two records share a dogged fascination with the human mind and all the messed-up things it can do. Reatard and Toledo each plumbed the depths of their character to create their respective Grand Epics, and while Reatard’s manifested as a slasher flick, Toledo’s is psychological drama rendered as teen romance.
If there’s a song that makes the best case for Twin Fantasy’s reimagining, it’s “Bodys,” the mid-section of a trio of the album’s more upbeat tracks. Sweaty and soaring, “Bodys” begins as pure hedonism: “I’m sick of meaning, I just want to hold you,” sings Toledo, ditching his perpetual state of crisis for a moment. It feels like going to a party, having a first drink, and letting your cool-kid façade slip for a moment. Then he abandons posturing entirely, “I am terrified your body could fall apart at any second.” On the original version of Twin Fantasy, the poignance of this moment is bogged down by its own grandeur, eventually dissolving into a fog. But the new version’s high-fidelity recording elevates it. “Bodys” swells into something overblown and outsized and deliriously euphoric. It’s enough to make a seven-year-old record feel brand new.