Sound ‘Round: Car Seat Headrest / Paul Simon

Death at both ends of the spectrum

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (Matador)

Car Seat Headrest - Teens of DenialWill Toledo is like a lot of smart twentysomethings with more ambition than career prospects: lost, desperate and glum. Such innate emotions, however dreadful, drive his lo-fi basement rock — from the many DIY EPs found online to this major-label breakout complete with a crew of hired hands to bolster his melancholy. Written during his senior year at William & Mary College, the best songs contrast the impending doom of adulthood with a youthful disillusionment. That desk job he fears is as unfulfilling as the countless hangovers or the mushrooms that let him talk to Jesus. Eternally stuck between two rotten paths, depression is Toledo’s greatest muse and reoccurring theme. He doesn’t find a cure because he doesn’t want to — a fact made clear in the opening coda: “I’ve got a right to be depressed / I’ve given every inch I had to fight it.” Complicit in his own dreariness, he goes down swinging with unhinged noise, frenzied feedback and prog arrangements that belie his true pop leanings. What really saves the day is humor that’s as morose as the auteur’s mental state. The best joke sums up everything: “Of course I’m O.K. with death / But why you talk about it so goddamn much?” GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Drugs with Friends” / “Fill in the Blank” / “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger (Warner Bros.)

Paul Simon - Stranger to StrangerHe seemed content to die a beautiful death on 2011’s So Beautiful or So What, a wonderful album wherein a then-69-year-old Simon waxes poetic about our shared fate with grace and charm. Five years later, he’s still very much alive and a member of the modern world. Though the grave looms large here — a wealthy Milwaukee man is murdered by his wife in the opening verse — the point transcends mere morbidity. By the end of the first number, said Milwaukee man symbolizes the ills of income inequality. Ditto the proceeding song about a musician who joins the homeless after being shut out of his own gig for not wearing a wrist band. From there, we’re introduced to a suicidal soldier and a manic street preacher who escapes the walls of a psych ward with a parade inside his damaged mind. Sounds like a lot, but this is awful slight given its subject matter: 11 songs at a brisk 35 minutes. Aside from two drowsy instrumentals, Simon is predictably eclectic and erudite — Afro-beat meets Americana and pop hooks collide with the tongue worthy of an English PhD. A master of his craft on cruise control, there are worse things. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “The Riverbank” / “The Werewolf” / “Wristband”


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