9. Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial
This year’s best indie rock album was nearly derailed by Ric Ocasek, who denied permission for Will Toledo to use a line from the Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” Matador Records was forced to recall and destroy the entire first run of CDs and LPs while the song in question had to be rerecorded to remove reference to the Cars, a mistake that cost the label $50,000. But Car Seat Headrest was worth the trouble. Upgrading his then-signature lo-fi style, Toledo went into the studio and came out with 70 minutes of melodies, riffs and great songs in a long tradition of introspective yet exuberant rockers, typified by his most immediate vocal resemblance.
He sounds like Jonathan Richman (close your eyes and JoJo may as well be singing, “walking piece of shit”)—not the fey childlike innocent of his solo albums but the neurotic 98-pound weakling of the Modern Lovers’ seminal debut (itself an unlikely marriage of Buddy Holly and the Velvet Underground). That’s not what puts Teens of Denial in a new major league. The showstopper on an album that never flags is the nearly 12-minute epic, “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia,” which builds from an unassuming acoustic rhythm guitar to a furious electric hook. “If only I could sustain my anger,” indeed; Toledo sustains a harrowing range of emotion from anger to regret to despair to, finally, love. Just 24 years old, he may be a figurative teen, but he has a pop wisdom beyond his years. – Pat Padua