If you cranked out 11 homemade albums in just four years, you'd probably want to go big once you had the means to make a for-real long-player for a noted indie label. And though 2016's Teens of Denial isn't Car Seat Headrest's first album for Matador Records, this is the first one founder, frontman, and songwriter Will Toledo built from the ground up for the label. Arriving in 2015, Teens of Style was a re-recorded "best-of" that revisited Toledo's earlier material, but Teens of Denial is a grand-scale 70-minute song cycle about a kid named Joe who is wrestling with the traditional dilemmas of late adolescence and early adulthood. Unlike the lion's share of Toledo's work, Teens of Denial was recorded in a professional studio with a real producer (Steve Fisk) and a band (with Ethan Ives on bass and Andrew Katz on drums). Teens of Denial doesn't sound especially slick (quite the opposite), but it feels big and ambitious; Toledo has a story to tell, and if his vocals are often laconic, they fit the material well, as he re-creates the casual eloquence of a high schooler's mumble and shrug. Teens of Denial is that rarity, an album about teenage life that sounds like it could have been created by a 17-year-old, though few would have the intelligence and discipline to get their ideas on tape with this level of skill. Toledo understands that the circumstances of Joe's life might sometimes seem trivial at first glance, but the emotions behind them, and the lessons doled out and learned, are not. There's a real and powerful wit in these songs, but that doesn't mean Toledo doesn't take Joe's travails seriously, and over the course of these 12 songs, he builds an epic out of the simplest materials. Rock history teaches us you can't will a masterpiece into existence, but with Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial, Will Toledo has created something like a novel after previously offering us short stories, and it's a piece of rough-hewn brilliance.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming