There are two kinds of great lyrics. The first is the banger/anthem catch phrase: "Normal life is borin' / but superstardom is close to post-mortem." The second is more complex (and more rarely found): "Like a bird on a wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried in my way to be free" — with ideas, themes, and personae unfolding over the course of songs, contradicting each other, confronting the listeners' preconceptions, like Pete Townsend, Morrissey, or Kendrick Lamar.
Will Toledo, the singer/songwriter/visionary of Car Seat Headrest, is adept at both, having developed them over the course of his eleven college-recorded Bandcamp albums and his retrospective collection last fall, Teens of Style. With Teens of Denial, his first real "studio" album with an actual band, Toledo moves from bedroom pop to something approaching classic-rock grandeur and huge (if detailed and personal) narrative ambitions, with nods to Jonathan Richman, Wire, and William Onyeabor.
"I’m so sick of / (Fill in the blank)" or "It’s more than you bargained for / But it's a little less than what you paid for" are more than smart, edgy slogans. Over the course of Teens of Denial's 11 songs, Will narrates a journey with his mysterious companion/alter-ego Joe that addresses big themes (personal responsibility, existential despair, the nature of identity, the Bible, heaven) and small ones (Air Jordans, cops, whether to have one more beer, why he lost his backpack). By turns tender and caustic, empathetic and solipsistic, literary and vernacular, profound and profane, self-loathing and self-aggrandizing, he conjures a specifically 21st century mindset, a product of information overload, the loneliness it can foster, and the escape music can provide.