Toledo always knew he would return to Twin Fantasy. He never did complete the work. Not really. Never could square his grand ambitions against his mechanical limitations. Listen to his first attempt, recorded at nineteen on a cheap laptop, and you’ll hear what Brian Eno fondly calls “the sound of failure” – thrilling, extraordinary, and singularly compelling failure. Will’s first love, rendered in the vivid teenage viscera of stolen gin, bruised shins, and weird sex, was an event too momentous for the medium assigned to record it.
Even so, even awkward and amateurish, Twin Fantasy is deeply, truly adored. Legions of reverent listeners carve rituals out of it: sobbing over “Famous Prophets,” making out to ‘Cute Thing’, dancing their asses off as ‘Bodys’ climbs higher, higher. The distortion hardly matters. You can hear him just fine. You can hear everything. And you can feel everything: his hope, his despair, his wild overjoy. He’s trusting you – plural you, thousands of you – with the things he can’t say out loud. “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends,” he sings – and then, caught between truths, backtracks: “I never came out to my friends. We were all on Skype, and I laughed and changed the subject.”
You might be imagining an extended diary entry, an angsty transmission from a bygone LiveJournal set to power chords and cranked to eleven. You would be wrong. Twin Fantasy is not a monologue. Twin Fantasy is a conversation. You know, he sings, that I’m mostly singing about you. This is Will’s greatest strength as a songwriter: he spins his own story, but he’s always telling yours, too. Between nods to local details – Harper’s Ferry, The Yellow Wallpaper, the Monopoly board collecting dust in his back seat – he leaves room for the fragile stuff of your own life, your own loves. From the very beginning, alone in his bedroom, in his last weeks of high school, he knew he was writing anthems. Someday, he hoped, you and I might sing these words back to him.
“It was never a finished work,” Toledo says, “and it wasn’t until last year that I figured out how to finish it.” He has, now, the benefit of a bigger budget, a full band in fine form, and endless time to tinker. According to him, it took eight months of mixing just to get the drums right. But this is no shallow second take, sanitized in studio and scrubbed of feeling. This is the album he always wanted to make. It sounds the way he always wanted it to sound.
It’s been hard, stepping into the shoes of his teenage self, walking back to painful places. There are lyrics he wouldn’t write again, an especially sad song he regards as an albatross. But even as he carries the weight of that younger, wounded Toledo, he moves forward. He grows. He revises, gently, the songs we love so much. In the album’s final moments, in those “apologies to future me’s and you’s,” there is more forgiveness than fury.
This, Toledo says, is the most vital difference between the old and the new: he no longer sees his own story as a tragedy.
He’s not alone no more.
Bartees Strange’s mother was an opera singer. His dad served in the military for decades. He traveled widely for his parents jobs — born in Ipswich, England 1989, his family also did stints in Germany, Greenland, and a number of states across america before he hit his 12th birthday when they settled in Mustang, Oklahoma.
Though Bartees’s mother shepherded him through formal musical training in voice, as a teenager he and his friends fixated on the blooming hardcore and emo scene of the Midwest and Deep South, drawing inspiration from band such as At the Drive In, Norma Jean, At the Drive In, MeWithoutYou, Cap n Jazz, Bright Eyes, and American Football. Around this time Bartees started playing guitar.
In true DIY/punk fashion, this consumption turned into production. In middle school, Bartees began producing music for friends with a small project studio he built out of a Tascam 388, the family computer and a pirated copy of FL Studio. Through AOL instant messenger, Bartees connected with old friends in the UK, who brought him up to speed on a new world of sonic influence led by Bloc Party, Burial, Robyn and Skream. College, and a half-decade stint in Brooklyn connected him with the rising indie scene— particularly favorites like Bon Iver, TV on The Radio, Frank Ocean, James Blake, King Krule, Japanese Breakfast, Mt. Kimbie, Mitski, Thao Nguyen and The National, giving him a crash course in lyrical intrigue and textural brilliance.