Top Five Car Seat Headrest Songs
A deeper insight into the band Car Seat Headrest and the powerful lyrics and sounds that create the band.
April 21, 2023
Car Seat Headrest is an indie rock band masterminded by lead frontman Will Barnes. Will Barnes, or as he’s known by most fans, Will Toledo. Barnes started the band all by himself at 17 years old releasing 12 independently released albums until he was eventually signed to Matador Records where he then released four more albums with a full band behind him. Toledo started off by recording songs in his car, hence the name Car Seat Headrest, which gives a lot of his early albums a very unique lofi garage band sound.
He’s well known for his in depth and personal lyricism, writing about varying topics such as being in the LGBTQ+ community, interpersonal relationships, growing up, religion, and mental health in an almost surreal style with some meanings of songs being deeply hidden and abstract.
- Souls – Souls is a melancholic almost ten minute song off Toledo’s album Monomania. To give some context, Monomania is a break up album where Toledo expresses the feelings and struggles he had letting go of his ex and how he coped with those feelings. The song starts with Toledo going to a party and trying to have a good time but from lyrics like, “hang on to my ego, everything is coming loose tonight. I’m too nervous for boys now, I’m too nervous for girls now,” it obviously isn’t going super well.
He eventually does meet someone else at the party that he starts to fall for but he isn’t happy, Toledo is struggling to separate this new person from his ex and any emotional or physical romance just feels empty as a result. Eventually, the song transitions from a heavy guitar sound to a more plucky and electric sound and ends with Toledo dejectedly singing, “I laughed and headed home, I learned my lesson never to roam.” It’s probably his best example of him being able to tell a cohesive story from start to finish while also being fun to sing along to.
- Hey Space Cadet (Beast Monster Thing In Space) – Hey Space Cadet is the closing song from the EP How To Leave Town. Toledo has mastered the ability to write very long songs without the piece ever getting stagnant or boring and this song is a great example, being that it’s nearly 11 minutes long. Hey Space Cadet is the last song he released before he got signed and the subject matter of the song reflects that experience. Its a guitar ballad about being far away from home and the feelings of isolation that came with it. Lyrics such as, “And the times where I feel fine, I’m just dancing in my mind,” or, “You’re gonna need a lot of love, but not the kind you’re thinking of,” are very telling of his thoughts during this time in his life. It’s definitely one of his saddest songs in my opinion.
He’s finally achieving his dreams that he’s always wanted to as a kid but now he just feels the stress of constantly making songs with no time to spend with friends or have any love life. Even in his own mind he isn’t safe. His creativeness that has been his escape from reality, now feels like a constant reminder of his new reality that he is financially reliant on writing songs to survive.
- Bodys – Bodys (2018 version) is the song I will always use to introduce people to Car Seat Headrest. The beat is funky, it’s fun, it makes you want to dance and the lyrics reflect it well. “Everybody is swinging their hips, Everybody is giving the waitress tips,” and funny awkward lyrics like, “Those are- you got some nice shoulders I’d like to put my hands around them.” He stumbles over his words trying to tell his partner he wants to dance with them while he is obviously struggling to even know how to dance. Despite the bouncy drums and grooves however the song cleverly hides a melancholic story beneath the bouncing drums and grooves.
He feels like the relationship between the two is falling apart; Toledo wants to be open about each other’s love but due to the stigma of gay relationships as a teen and his partner just wanting to go to parties instead of hang out together, he is left with a very uneasy feeling. It’s also interesting to note the name of the song “Bodys” is obviously not how you spell the actual word bodies. It’s as though the word was shoved together and is awkwardly holding on to the “s” at the end of the body which is symbolic of Toledo and his partner awkwardly holding on to each other.
- The Ballad Of The Costa Concordia – TBOTCC is definitely the most relatable song for me personally. It’s all about growing up, struggling to do things he feels like he should know as an adult but just doesn’t. The name of the song is actually pretty smart when you think about it, the Costa Concordia was a ship that was devastatingly sunk in 2012 because the Captain of the ship left in an accident, wrecking the ship and ending many people’s lives. By naming the song after it, he is essentially comparing every mistake he makes to the weight of sinking a ship that could ruin him for the rest of his life.
The song is split into four parts, the first part is where he lets all the stress sink into him to the point where he can barely even get out of bed. In the second part, most of the instruments are taken out of the instrumental and Toledo has a spoken word like moment while the instrumental gets more and more aggressive and so does Toledo until he is screaming about things he was never taught as a teen and the results it’s having in his adult life. The third part is definitely the most exciting moment instrumentally and vocally. Toledo criticizes American consumerism and capitalism that led him to the place he is now and ends with an oddly triumphant, “I give up” repeated as he lets go of all things that cause him stress despite the consequences. The last part contains only a slow organ-like synth behind his vocals, and as much as I would like to speculate behind the meaning of the final lyrics, it’s not super clear but it does feel very reassuring at the end of this defeating song.
- Beach Life-In-Death – This song is not only my favorite song from Car Seat Headrest,but one of my favorite songs of all time and is the main reason I wanted to write this. It’s hard to even describe this song; it’s 13 minutes long covering a long list of topics. He talks about his long distance relationship, his mental health, trying to get a job and working, coming out to friends, isolation and all of it just feels so cohesive and well done; it’s insanely impressive. The instrumental is constantly changing and developing as are the lyrics and the tone of his voice. Instead of describing the entire song’s narrative which would take quite a long time I’d rather give my three favorite moments from the song. At about the three minute mark of the song, he delves into the feeling of being in between wanting to be human and wanting to be inhuman but not being either: the lyrics, “it should be called anti depression… because it’s not the sadness that hurts you. It’s the brain’s reaction against it,” are incredibly hard hitting and a great example of what struggling with mental health feels like. It’s not about just being sad; it’s the pain of trying to not be and just feeling empty when attempt to
Next, at around 5:30 the song’s instrumental is stripped down and the eerie lyrics, “Last night he dreamed he was trying to kill you. When I woke up I was trying to kill you,” follow it. When I first heard the lyrics it struck me as very odd and off putting, but how I now understand the lyrics is Toledo is doing his best to support and protect someone he loves even in his dreams, but in reality his protective nature is actually harming his partner mentally and the biggest threat is actually him.
Lastly, at the 9:30 mark the instrumental goes out before quickly coming back more aggressive and chaotic than ever. The lyrics from the 5:30 minute mark are repeated, followed by, “your ears perked up, I perked up when your ears perked up. You were all looking around and I hoped it was for me. I hoped you were using your sonar senses for me.” On such a sad and defeating song I do feel like this part is actually really sweet. Despite all his problems and issues he and his partner have, he just wants to be noticed by him. Instead of dancing around the topic the whole song, he just comes out and says it and it’s very heartfelt.
To be honest, it was difficult to only list my top five songs. There were so many songs I wish I could’ve included that also hold a special place with me, Car Seat Headrest has such a large and varied discography there are some songs that others might love that I might have not even thought about. From heartbreaking guitar ballads to fun indie electronica tracks there are many tracks to listen to and maybe your top five songs would look completely different than mine, and I think that’s the beauty of music and artistry.