Graphic by Liana Kindler
The album Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest is an indie rock album that tells the story of a troubled gay romance. I found this album before I had come out to anyone. At that point in life, I didn’t have anyone to relate to in regards to being gay until I realized that Will Toledo, the singer of Car Seat Headrest, was singing about a boy he had fallen in love with. I loved the sound of this album, but it was the narrative that made me deeply invested in it.
Twin Fantasy does not label itself an LGBTQ album. In fact, if you don’t listen carefully you could miss this detail altogether. This is one of the reasons why I love it –– In a sense, I feel that it is rebelling against the notion that queer representation in music needs to start with or revolve around a coming out story. On the other hand, the lack of an explicit discussion of his sexuality may have been due to an apprehension towards admitting his sexuality (while still recording a whole album about it). Whichever the case is, I admire this album for its sincerity.
My Boy (Twin Fantasy): The album opens with the track My Boy (Twin Fantasy). This song introduces Toledo’s love interest, the subject of this album, and sets the bittersweet tone. Toledo sings, “It’ll take some time/ but somewhere down the line/ we won’t be alone.” An important detail (which is revealed in this album) is that Toledo hadn’t really come out prior to this relationship. The theme of loneliness in this album goes beyond the general meaning of loneliness –– it deals with the loneliness experienced by closeted, gay teens. For me, the loneliness I experienced when I wasn’t out pervaded nearly every aspect of my life, so this was a major point of relatability for me.
Beach Life-In-Death: The next song on this album is the 12 minute long epic called Beach Life-In-Death. The stream-of-conscious writing style in this song begins to reveal more details about their relationship. Toledo sings, “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/ I never came out to my friends.” It is like Toledo lies to the listener about coming out, but then he quickly admits the truth. Eventually he reveals, “It’s been a year since we first met/ I don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet”. This tells us that his relationship isn’t clearly established, which has caused confusion. I connect with Toledo’s lines, “Thank god for the little things and and/ fuck god that they’re little things I am.” On one hand I try to feel thankful for the things that make me unique, including my sexuality, while at the same time I feel frustrated over it because it has made my life more complicated.
Stop Smoking: In this short song, Toledo sings, “Stop smoking. We love you and we don’t want you to die.” I get the sense that Toledo views smoking as a slow form of suicide. Later in the album, Toledo changes his stance and tells his lover to keep smoking, because he loves him anyways. Toledo’s growing love for his boyfriend forces him to accept that his boyfriend smokes, even though he views smoking as detrimental. This could also be a small example of the bigger picture of their relationship, which is that Toledo will still love his boyfriend even if he does things that he doesn’t like.
Sober to Death: In this song Toledo sings, “Good stories are bad lives.” This is telling of his relationship because he is saying that if their relationship wasn’t flawed and problematic, he wouldn’t have been able to make this album. Writing and making music seems to be Toledo’s way of coping with his relationship. Twin Fantasy shares a truly honest account of a meaningful yet problematic relationship. This album doesn’t glamorize Toledo’s experience; instead, it is relatable to people going through similar issues.
Nervous Young Inhumans: “You galvanistic young boy/ You galvanistic young man/ You galvanistic young inhuman/ You understand.” In a commentary style at the end of this song, Toledo tells us that galvanism is the idea that electricity runs through our bloodstream and is our life force. He uses the term “galvanistic” to reference Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which explores the theme of creating a being, which he admits he has done to his love interest. That is, Toledo has fallen in love with the fantasy he has created.
Bodys: At this point in the album Toledo gives up on searching for meaning in his relationship. He sings, “I mean, I’m sick of meaning/ I just wanna hold you.” There is a pleading to embrace their youth and take a break from the struggles of making their relationship work: “Don’t you realize our bodies could fall apart at any second?/ I am terrified that your body could fall apart at any second.”
Cute Thing: “I got so fucking romantic/ I apologize/ Lemme light your cigarette.” At this point in the album, the tone shifts from romanticism to realism. Toledo apologizes to his lover for the affection he yearned for in the previous song and offers a more subtle form of affection (lighting his cigarette). In this song, Toledo tones down his desire for affection. He may feel pressured to do this so that he doesn’t appear more invested into their relationship than his boyfriend. This lack of affection that his boyfriend shows Toledo could just be his nature, or it could be his fear of embracing his sexuality or showing it publicly.
High to Death: At this point in the album Toledo realizes he has been disillusioned by this love, which may be nothing more than the fantasy he admits to creating in Nervous Young Inhumans. Toledo sings, “And I love this dream/ But how exactly can we/ Escape from behind this wall?” In this song he wishes his fantasy was real. He also realizes that being so immersed into this fantasy is unhealthy. He compares his fantasy to being high. It comforts him, yet he realizes that like a high, his fantasy isn’t real. So when he says that he wishes he was sober, he means that he wishes he could let go of this romantic fantasy that he has created.
Famous Prophets (Minds): “Twin bruises on my shins/ From where I kicked the back of the seat in/ They meant what I went through for you.” The twin bruises in this line are a reference to the title of this album, Twin Fantasy. Toledo may have chosen the “twins” motif as a reference to the same-sex relationship he is in. The bruises represent the emotional pain of his relationship. Toledo sings, “I will not revoke the punishment/ for falling in love too hard.” Toledo realizes that the pains of this romance will haunt him.
Twin Fantasy (Those Boys): In a third person commentary incorporated into this track Toledo tells us, “He dissociates himself from his own romance until it becomes just a fantasy. This is not something that could happen to him; this is something that takes place only in his mind. But he blinks now, and shakes himself awake. He has rejoined society.” Essentially, Toledo is saying that his love was too good to be true. The idealized relationship he created in his head didn’t align with the reality of their relationship. I interpret his statement that he has rejoined society to mean he is leaving this (presumably secret) relationship.
Society often conditions LGBTQ people to feel out of place. This becomes a major point of contention for young people growing up and trying to accept their sexualities and it often leads to feelings of shame. Creating a romantic fantasy of what a healthy, fulfilling queer relationship looks like can be a way of coping with that stigma. Sadly, this vision is not always quickly achieved. This album captures the pain in realizing the difference between reality and fantasy.
In the end, although Toledo lost his love, his pain inspired the creation of an album that I needed to hear during a particular period of my life. I wasn’t out, but I didn’t need a coming out story. I also didn’t need an album that would tell me being gay would be easy. What I needed was an indie rock album that captured the emotional angst experienced by a gay, closeted teen. When I first found this album I didn’t have anyone to relate to, but whenever I’d listen to this album, I heard someone that understood me.