Though Teens of Style was Will Toledo’s Matador debut and point of exposure, for many (ourselves included), Teens of Denial is where he’s really made a push to go beyond his origins as a cult Bandcamp artist. It’s much longer, much better produced, more thoughtfully put together and more cohesive than its predecessor and gathers in trendy indie-rock touchstones (The Cars, Wire, Pavement, Dinosaur. Jr). There’s softly-spoken acoustic ballads, dirty punk, extended jams and everything that you’d want from an indie-rock album in 2016. And ‘2016’ is important too; Will Toledo references Wikipedia, Air Jordans and his bandcamp page. I can see how the lyrics could be irritating, with constant self-referencing and breaking the fourth wall relentlessly, but way too often a line will come out of no-where that stops you entirely in your tracks. ‘Something is ringing / Death is playing his xylophone ribs for me’ or on ‘The Ballad of Costa Concordia’ where he masterfully compares himself to the Costa Concordia cruise ship which sank in 2012. Toledo also injects some much-needed humour back into rock music with lines like ‘Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms / I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit / In a stupid looking jacket’ and self-assessing his last album in half-mumbled spoken word. It’s refreshing, funny and is starkly different from serious rock music that can’t crack a joke.
‘Drugs With Friends’ might sound like a rock’n’roll call-to-arms for drug use from the title, or even a sarcastic satire by Car Seat Headrest (these will become familiar), but it’s a bit of both. It doesn’t explicitly say ‘drugs are good’ or ‘drugs are bad’ but it’s a moment where Toledo appreciates his friends, even though he says ‘Afraid of the cops when I was outside, afraid of my friends when I was inside’. Then his dad shows up. These are essentially teenage songs for a twenty-something looking back in hindsight. He’s not miserable, he’s not blissful when he looks back, but he’s numb to it all. That’s the circulating emotion that Toledo speaks about on Teens of Denial, when he sings ‘this isn’t sex, I don’t think, it’s just extreme empathy’ or ‘Get a job, eat an apple, it’ll eat itself out’. The ‘Denial’ part of the album title is important – it’s about only missing something (i.e. being a teenager), until it’s gone, even though most teenagers will assure you that its pretty crappy. That cycle goes on; when you’re thirty, you wish you were twenty, and so on. Crippling nostalgia and how nobody’s comfortable in their age. We fidget, and we’re unhappy.
‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ could easily make it onto any rock fan’s radio. It’s also something of a sequel to ‘Drugs With Friends’, in that it takes place during the drive (or walk) home after the party. It’s got a slacker-rock roll to it, sort of Pavement-ish, but the anthemic chorus is anything but loose. Toledo sings ‘We are not a proud race / We’re not a race at all’, which could easily be the human race, but maybe he thinks teenagers are so different from the rest of humanity they could be considered their own race. Where do the killer whales come in? It’s almost like a train of thought, from the line ‘It doesn’t have to be like this / killer whales’, but the killer whales are probably the drunk drivers. The ‘drunk driving’ is reckless living at high speeds, but ‘the voice in your head / giving you shit again’ is actually the logical side of Toledo telling himself to slow down and accept what is happening. Behind all this is a perfect pop-rock song.
The song which is the most interesting just looking at timings is ‘The Ballad of the Costa Concordia’, which rolls in at ten minutes. Given Car Seat Headrests’ recent cover of ‘Paranoid Android’, you’d half expect some kind of prog rock epic, and there are significant changes in the track, from slow, brooding rock, to punk to garage rock. The track never feels ten minutes long, with enough change-ups to warrant such a long song. You have to respect a track that manages to incorporate Dido’s ‘White Flag’ into the verse. It’s about putting stuff together and if it doesn’t work, trying to combine something else. That’s punk, essentially. Teens of Denial was an exciting album to listen to, showing an artist rising through the ranks from Bandcamp to Matador, and this doesn’t even seem like a peak. The humour is what elevated it though; putting Toledo on the map as a great songwriter who can keep a listener gripped and waiting for his next line.
Funnel Recommends: Destroyed By Hippie Powers / Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales / The Ballad of the Costa Concordia