Twelve years ago, Will Toledo transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University to The College of William and Mary, citing his feelings of anxiety and isolation as his reasoning. Born from that transfer would become one of Toledo’s most prolific and popular works, the concept album Twin Fantasy. The album was an exploration of his long-distance relationship and the feeling of incredible loneliness he felt throughout his youth. The ten track long album has had several releases. The initial release in 2011 allegedly only received about 100 downloads, but within the next 10 years, Twin Fantasy would evolve into one of the most respected and recognizable albums in Will Toledo’s discography.
William! Let me out!
Who is Will Toledo? Normally, I would divulge information about stage names and what his “real” name is, but honestly, the implication that in order to “know” everything about an artist you must pry into a name barely connected to their identities as artists has always been strange to me. Maybe this is the perfect segment for me to level with readers and contextualize myself as much as I wish to contextualize Mr. Toledo. The only important thing to consider about myself as an author in this specific scenario is that I am transgender, and understanding Twin Fantasy from my perspective has really allowed me to truly view Twin Fantasy in a way I (and I only) assume how Toledo wants it to be viewed.
Will Toledo is the frontman of Car Seat Headrest, a band that expanded from his heart outward. Starting it alone in the backseat of his car, reaching out to a wide audience of alienated people. Today, Toledo records and tours with a set group of performers, himself on vocals, Andrew Katz on drums, Seth Dalby on bass, and Ethan Ives on guitar. For a long time, Car Seat Headrest was portrayed pretty strongly as “The Will Toledo Show” until recently. This makes the vast majority of their early work entirely dependent on Toledo for construction. Katz, Ives, and Dalby were all not in Car Seat Headrest when Twin Fantasy was written, making the album a personal work of Will Toledo’s.
Privacy, putting it in the back seat.
Before the final analysis, I would like to make a few things very clear. I will be discussing the subject of Twin Fantasy in a way that respects the privacy of Will Toledo’s former partner, Cate Wurtz. To be concise, Cate is a transgender woman, and came out after her breakup with Toledo. This explains the differences between the 2011 version of the album and the 2018 version, some songs (excluding My Boy) were amended to have a more ambiguously gendered narrative focus. This does not make Twin Fantasy any less of a queer album. It still tells a story about the experience of two queer people, whatever the nature of the relationship is. Journalism has a rough history with privacy in regard to gay and trans people (trans people especially). As a gay and transgender journalist, I am obligated to exercise extreme caution with this analysis.
Twin Fantasy: Song to Song
The following analyses will be of the 2018 versions with two exceptions: Nervous Young Inhumans, and Famous Prophets (Minds)/(Stars). Both of these songs change in excess between Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), the 2018 version, and Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror), the 2011 version.
My boy, we don't see each other much
My boy, we don't see each other much
It'll take some time, but somewhere down the line
We won't be alone
My Boy is very straightforward. The singer has a boy, and they don’t see each other much. My Boy is an idealistic vision of the singer’s long-distance relationship. It’s truly the most positive-facing song in the album, they might be alone now- soon they will not be.
It's not enough to love the unreal
I am inseparable from the impossible
I want gravity to stop for me
My soul yearns for a fugitive from the laws of nature
The title of Beach Life-in-Death is most likely a reference to W.B. Yeats’ “Byzantium”. ““Before me floats an image, man or shade, / Shade more than man, more image than a shade; / For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth / May unwind the winding path; / A mouth that has no moisture and no breath / Breathless mouths may summon; / I hail the superhuman; / I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.” Beach Life-in-Death details life in the closet, isolation, and the frustrations of a joyless, monotony. The singer describes their anxieties around relationships, sex, queerness, and coming out. Toledo stated in an interview that the song was written out of a desire to create “... something like Destroyer, making these long poetic songs with different sections.” The endless literary references in Beach Life-in-Death is a buzzing reminder that yes, Will Toledo was an English major. Beach Life-in-Death closes with a repeated line “The ocean washed over your grave,” which according to a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) with Toledo is “basically it’s about being unable to keep your feelings for someone buried, they keep resurfacing long after you thought they were gone.”
Stop Smoking (We Love You)
Stop smoking, we love you
Stop smoking, we love you
Stop smoking, we love you
And we don't want you to die
Stop Smoking introduces a protective nature the singer has over his partner, who has a smoking habit. Stop Smoking is mostly used as a set up for High to Death.
Sober to Death
Take your hands off your neck and hold
On to the ghost of my body
You know that good lives make bad stories
You can text me
When punching mattresses gets old
Don't think it'll always be this way
Not comforted by anything I say
We were wrecks before we crashed into each other
Sober to Death is in the top 3 of Car Seat Headrest’s most listened to pieces of discography. The song is the first flagrant and clear description of the abusive and toxic nature of the singer’s relationship with their long distance partner. Requesting that they take their anger out on him, and replacing the harm they might do to themself to the singer instead. “We were wrecks before we crashed into each other,” the line perfectly encapsulates two people who are mentally unstable heading towards a destructive trajectory in their relationship with one another. The singer desperately holds onto his role as a caretaker in his relationship, but neglects his own health while acknowledging it’s on a decline.
Nervous Young Inhumans (Face to Face) (2018)
You never lifted your voice
You never raised your hand
You never showed me your inhuman
Nervous Young Inhumans is about how the singer idealized his partner as someone who could not hurt him emotionally (You never lifted your voice) or physically (You never raised your hand). The song ends with the singer going on a rant about how he affects the people around him as a “good person” and the subjectivity of being good or bad (possibly as an excuse for the singer and his partner’s caustic behaviors). The idea of the subject of Nervous Young Inhumans being a fabrication, a wish of a person that the singer wants to engage with, lays heavy in Nervous Young Inhumans in Mirror to Mirror, but is especially pertinent in the Face to Face version of the album.
Nervous Young Inhumans (Mirror to Mirror) (2011)
You galvanistic young boy
You galvanistic young man
You galvanistic young inhuman
The term “galvanistic” isn’t a real word, but instead a prescriptive term for the version of his partner he constructed. The monologue at the end of the Mirror to Mirror version of Nervous Young Inhumans replaces one that deconstructs Toledo’s choice of the word
“galvanistic” in the 3rd person.
“Earlier in the song Will used the term "galvanistic". Galvanism is the concept... the obsolete scientific theory that there is a kind of electricity flowing through our bloodstreams and that was our life force. Will used the term because he came across it in Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. And that book is sort of an exploration of the theme of creating a character, or making up a person. So Will used the term "galvanistic" to allude to that book, as a sort of symbol of how he, like, created ME as a character, and he's pretending that he knows a lot more about ME than he actually does. And also to refer to the fact that he's fallen in love with the characters I'VE created in, uh, MY body of work... this is the part of the song where Will starts to regret writing it”
The constructed version of Will’s partner, Cate, that’s being discussed in Nervous Young Inhumans is quite literally a fabrication made by the singer. During the time their relationship was active, Cate was closeted as a trans woman. So, the singer grappling with the fact that his partner wasn’t a genuine version of themselves within his own mind’s eye, is a really interesting and unintentional piece of commentary on trans identity and living while closeted. Will writes that “he's pretending that he knows a lot more about ME than he actually does,” a testament that he surely didn’t carry alone. The concept of having an inconsistent version of the self is heavily prevalent in Twin Fantasy, which makes listening to it far more interesting as a thought experiment in hindsight.
Don't you realize our bodies could fall apart any second?
I am terrified your body call fall apart at any second
Those are you got some nice shoulders
I'd like to put my hands around them
Bodys takes on a much brighter tone than the rest of the album. An ecstatic party beat not dissimilar to music one would hear in a vivacious club rings in your ear with rapid, catchy percussion. Bodys is a song about living in the moment, joyously and without regret. (Even if you combine “Those are some nice shoulders” and “You’ve got some nice shoulders” while trying to compliment your partner and end up accidentally saying “Those are you’ve got some nice shoulders,” instead).
Give me one little chance
I can make you a man
I will be your rock, dog, when you're rolling your eyes
Another bright song, Cute Thing is about vulnerability. The singer gives it his all as the guitar rolls into a roar, dismissing “thank you” with “it was nothing” expressing his willingness to surrender himself to his partner’s needs.
Compared to creating a
persona to obsess over in Nervous Young Inhumans, Cute Thing is the singer urging himself to get to know his partner intimately.
High to Death
Keep smoking, I love you
Keep smoking, I love you
Keep smoking, I still love you
But I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die
High to Death is when the singer finally admits that they are both beyond helping each other. Fearing death as any young person would, the singer grapples with mortality. Hypocritically, he describes his suicidal ideations while singing a mantra of
“I don’t want to die.” This is where he gives up.
Famous Prophets (Minds) (2011)
The great transgressions of Wurtz
As before, I will not regret the punishment
The great transgressions of Will
As before, I will not resort to punishment
As Will surrenders his love to the inevitable failure of his relationship with Wurtz, he positions himself as a victim in the relationship. Not a victim in a conventional sense, but a victim of love. He screams “We gotta go back” as he bargains with himself. He has to go back to idealizing a relationship that pulled him out of a deep loneliness despite its destructive nature, and Wurtz needs to revert to the person that Will saw her as before he was awakened to the truth of her grim, strife filled reality. He wakes up from the feverous dream he has been trapped in, marking the momentous occasion by which he emerges from his fantasy with a quote from the bible. The passage (Kings 19:11–13) describes when Elijiah meets God, possibly implying that the singer being released from his trace was a life-altering and eye-opening moment for his moral values and belief. The song closes with line 13 “and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” The final line closes with an unusual translation of the quote, Kings 19:13 usually finishes as “after the fire a sound of a soft whisper.”
Famous Prophets (Stars) (2018)
And when the mirror breaks
I wouldn't miss it for the world
Call it blackstar, call it painstar
The same thing happens when you touch it
Famous Prophets (Stars) no longer speak of Will or Wurtz, only “you.” The (Stars) version of the track is considerably less angry. Instead, a deep feeling of loss is imparted in the music. Toledo reflects (pun intended) on (Minds) and the ways the track fell short, music cutting out, his regrets naming himself and his partner, and the cliche lyrics he has replaced with new ones. The growth of (Stars) shows how the singer has developed emotionally. (Stars) also includes a second allusion to a concept called “painstar.” The painstar is a concept a mutual friend of Wurtz and Will dreamed of, a one-in-ten-lifetimes occasion where a star appears before you. When you touch the painstar, you are filled with an unmatched pain for merely a blink of an eye and then it’s over. The painstar has never had a defined meaning, and I truly believe it can be anything for anybody. Ultimately, the painstar is always a realization of some sort, one you have to come on your own accord, and you must choose to confront it right then and there despite the unimaginable pain or risk it looming forebodingly over your life indefinitely. The bible is utilized once again in (Stars). Toledo personalizes the cosmically powerful piece of text by amending the end of verses 4-13 of Corinthians 13. Changing the passage from “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” to “And now these two remain:”, a witty way to lead into the 10th and final track of Twin Fantasy. But the music still cuts at the end.
Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)
They were connected
At the back of the head
They had a conduit
Their minds were the same
This is the end, Twin Fantasy (Those Boys) is a goodbye to everything he thought of his partner, his feelings, his delusions, the entire relationship is to be buried, the song a time capsule. There is no interpretation to be had, Will Toledo says it himself.
This is the end of the song, and it is just a song. This is a version of me and you that can exist outside of everything else, and if it is just a fantasy, then anything can happen from here. The contract is up. The names have been changed. So pour one out, whoever you are. These are only lyrics now
And so, he closes with a reminder.
When I come back you'll still be here.