Beach Life-in-Death: The Ocean Washed Over Your Grave
Courtesy of Noah Connor
In this debut article I will be reviewing the song Beach Life-in-Death by Car Seat Headrest.
If Beach Life-in-Death were a movie, it would be a coming of age film. The song itself starts in a way that could be seen as parallel to cinema: it starts with some context. Think of these opening lines as establishing shots: “last night I drove to Harper’s Ferry/ and I thought about you/ There were signs on the road that warned me of stop signs/ The speed limit kept decreasing by 10/ as we entered a town about halfway there”. Songwriter Will Toledo crafts a narrative by first crafting a setting in which it inhabits. We, as the audience, see (or rather hear) the sights that he sees and it helps bring us into his adolescent delusion- or rather fantasy.
The song continues on to unfold like a great teenage story. It has all the hallmarks of an awkward youth. Toledo (like many youths) does not understand himself or self-expression when it comes to sexuality, “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/ I never came out to my friends”, or how to express himself in any healthy way, actually: “do you have any crimes/ that we can use to pass the time?/ I’m running out of drugs to try”. Toledo grounds himself in this way as it is immediately relatable to a listener. Expressing yourself is hard, and it’s made much more difficult when it comes to sexuality.
One of the most brilliant lines in the songs comes around the middle of its sleepiest section: “pretty soon you will find some nice young satanist with braces and one capital ‘O’ significant Other/ and you can take him home to your mother/ and say ‘ma, this is my brother’”. In my reading of this song, this line epitomizes the confusion and anxiety that one experiences in a young sexuality. It could also be read as an embracement of who he is, though. The way I read it, it seems like an anxious dismissal of what this “significant Other” is to him. He is scared to reveal it to his mother, so he just blurts out “this is my brother”. The other way to read it is that it’s a triumphant declaration of Toledo and his boyfriend’s closeness. They have become so close that they have become like brothers.
The song concludes with one of its most prominent and important motifs: “the ocean washed over your grave/ the ocean washed open your grave”. This is describing the feeling of something unstoppable and inevitable stirring up feelings and memories you didn’t want to remember. This continuous chant is interrupted at the end of the song with a confused yelp that screams out “we’re too scared to do shit”. This is really the perfect ending line for the song. It perfectly depicts the frustration and confusion that comes with finding yourself. It can be very rewarding, but it can also be uncomfortable and difficult.
Will Toledo crafts the perfect coming of age story with Beach Life-In-Death. It has confusion, triumph, frustration, and teenage angst. Everything one could want from a coming of age story. It is an accurate depiction of youth that makes one reflect on their own youth. It’s not your typical high school story, but by breaking free of the mould it becomes something else entirely. It becomes a masterpiece.