by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
The crowd gets into Atmosphere at The Maha Music Festival, 8/15/15. This year’s festival happens tomorrow.
In my Reader write-up I mentioned Car Seat Headrest as the band I’m most excited to see play at this year’s Maha Music Festival, which (of course) is tomorrow at Aksarben Village. The band’s new album, Teens of Denial (2016, Matador), is far and away my favorite record so far this year. A double-album, every one of the 12 tracks is a keeper, which makes it a throw-back to an era when albums (not just songs) mattered, and so did the words.
Considering the over-riding theme — a young man’s struggle with depression, paranoia, anger, lonesomeness, and a world filled with ennui — I guess you could call it a concept album. Car Seat Headrest (one of the worst band names anyone could dream up) is mostly singer/songwriter Will Toledo, a 24-year-old dude from Leesburg, Virginia, now residing in Seattle. Chris Lombardi at Matador Records signed him in 2015 conceivably after hearing the best bits of the 12 albums he released on Bandcamp. It’s a story that kind of reminds me of how Matador signed Liz Phair after hearing her Girly Songs demos.
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial (2016, Matador)
The band’s debut, Teens of Style, came out in 2015; but its Teens of Denial that represents the first solid, cohesive release by Toledo. Sonically, the album is an amalgamation of 90’s-era indie, but most beholden to Pavement and Stephen Malkmus. A song like, say, “Destroyed By Hippie Powers,” sounds like a tuneful out-take from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain sung by a doped up Ray Davies of The Kinks. If you’re a fan of any of those classic ’90s releases on Matador or Homestead or Grass you’ll be right at home here.
Thematically, Toledo paints a grey portrait of a nerdy white dude trying to fit into a hipster world filled with drugs and assholes where he doesn’t (think he) belong(s). It’s personal confessions taken from a movie John Hughes would have directed had he survived until the 2010s, with lyrical clarity matched only by Westerberg (or our very own Conor Oberst). Each song has at least one deviously clever line (and more). Some of my faves:
“Fill in the Blank” — You have no right to be depressed / You haven’t tried hard enough to like it.
“Vincent” — If I’m being honest with myself / I haven’t been honest with myself.
“Destroyed by Hippies” — It’s more than you bargained for / But it’s less than what you paid for.
“(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem” — Drugs are better, drugs are better with / Friends are better, friends are better with drugs.
“Not What I Needed” — I’ve been waiting all my life for some real good porn / Something with meaning, something fulfilling / I’d like to make my shame count for something.
“Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” — We are not a proud race / It’s not a race at all / We’re just trying, I’m just trying to get home.
“1937 State Park” — I didn’t want you to hear / That shame in my voice / My pain is my own.
“Cosmic Hero” — And of course I’m alright with death / But do why you talk about it so goddamn much?
“The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” — How was I supposed to remember to grab my backpack after I set it down to play basketball?
“Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)” — Little boy says I’ll touch the heart of the nation / Little boy says I’ll punch the heart of everyone.
“Joe Goes to School” — I’m a tourist attraction / Biking down Dog Street.
There’s more lines and better ones and they all sound better in context and surrounded by power chords and blister-fast drums (at least during the upbeat ones). If you listen to the album with the lyric sheet, as I did, you’ll walk away a bit befuddled, a bit depressed and sorry for young Toledo who (probably) doesn’t have anything in his life that deserves your pity. There is a semblance of hope that underlines the overall experience, a realization that this character, this kid is smart enough to figure it all out on his own.
It’s a great album with a message about depression that fits well with Maha’s overarching mental health theme this year. Who knows if it’ll translate live on the Maha stage. I’ve seen a lot of bands who know how to write great songs and record terrific albums that wind up being dead-boring live. We’ll see tomorrow.
Those going to tomorrow’s festival, everything you’d want to know about Maha is available right here at the Hear Nebraska website. You can, of course, also go to the Maha website for details. GA tickets are $55 today. I think they go up DOS. And Maha still has VIP tickets available for $185, which is a steal if you like most of the bands.
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Diet Cig at The Slowdown, May 3, 2016. The band plays the Maha Festival afterparty at Reverb Lounge tomorrow night.
Maha isn’t the only thing going on this weekend.
Tonight at Reverb Lounge Relax, It’s Science headlines a show that includes Wagonblasters (Gary Dean Davis’ latest and greatest) and Pyrate. $5, 9 p.m.
Around the corner at The Waiting Room, Chemicals (amazing prog-jazz-rock band featuring some of Omaha’s best talent) opens for Funk Trek. Chemicals on this big stage could be something else. $5, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, over at fabulous O’Leaver’s, Your Friend headlines a big show also featuring Chicago’s The Dan Ryan, Briner and Sam Adam Martin. $7, 9:30 p.m.
Tomorrow night is usually dedicated to Maha after parties, but this year there’s only one, at Reverb with See Through Dresses, Bien Fang, Anna McClellan and (just announced this morning) “special guest” Diet Cig. There had been rumors or rumblings that Car Seat Headrest was the special guest, but apparently not. The free afterparty show starts at 10 p.m. Last year’s O’Leaver’s afterparty featured a set by Speedy Ortiz that eclipsed their set at Maha (and which you can hear right here).
That’s all I got. See you at Aksarben tomorrow, and have a great weekend.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.