As tired as animal metaphors can be (especially in the bloated language of music reviews), Gasp Asp is a record that truly lives up to its title. Like the venomous phylum of snakes that its namesake encompasses, Look Mexico’s newest EP is whip smart in speed and sound; its scales bright and polished, its demeanor aggressive without being sloppy. Like the Mecha Godzilla before it, Gasp Asp is a well oiled reptilian machine.
This isn’t to say that it is devoid of the tricks that made Look Mexico so lovable in the first place. It’s all still here: the scatological bend of Ryan Slate’s guitar, frontman Matt Agrella’s peppered string arrangements, Josh Mikel’s galloping drums, and yes, even the song titles pulled directly from Vin Diesel quotes. However, everything feels a bit faster, a bit meaner, and that’s just a bit, mind you. This isn’t metal by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to a more driving rhythm section and heavier lyrical subject matter, the tracks are armed with a newfound bite, making Gasp Asp Look Mexico’s most cohesive release to date.
Things start off in surprisingly somber fashion with the introduction to “You’re Not Afraid of the Dark, Are You?” The silent movie strings of Alex Zacharias’ cello and Lisa Zoll’s violin will induce double takes from devoted listeners of a band known for capturing the orange twilight of a Tallahassee summer on disc. The music plunges into familiar territory soon enough though, as the brisk assault of Slate, Mikel, and bassist Tyson Kuhlhoff interrupts the melancholy dinner party, snapping the scratched film footage out of sepia shutter-speed and into sunny technicolor.
“You’re Not Afraid of the Dark, Are You?” is anchored by Look Mexico’s strongest lyrics of their career. Where as the phrases and images of prior releases such as The Crucial EP and This Is Animal Music often evoked environments or feelings, the words here are more rooted in narrative, introducing us to a protagonist happy to leave the ghosts of his deceitful friends behind him. “Let’s go feed our dead or just talk to their heads…pay our respects and act like they’re fed,” Agrella belts in a polite snarl (think Sparta, not Underoath). Exhumed from any of his vocal hesitance found on earlier albums, Agrella sounds more confident than ever, truly easing into a voice that finally manages to successfully fluctuate between a gentle tenor and exuberant yelp.
Another welcome change is the addition of keyboardist Dave Pinkham. The hushed moan of his organ haunts “Don’t You Dare” with subtle, yet eerie undertones that, when accompanied with the cavernous chanting of the rest of the band, make the song sound like the twisted stepbrother to “I Can’t Today, I’m On Duty,” the bouncy second track off of The Crucial EP.
Special attention must also be paid to the rhythm section. Mikel and Kuhlhoff’s grooves are intertwined like strands of DNA, making for a unified snap that carries an almost punk rock aesthetic. The crack of Mikel’s drums is more rapid fire here than on This Is Animal Music, transforming from colt to Clydesdale in just one album, he expands his arsenal as well, using clanking, hollowed auxiliary percussion on “I’m Not Guilty, But I’m Used to It,” fleshing out an introduction that is tribal without being corny or new age. The momentum is carried by Kuhloff’s bass, enwrapping the band’s spine in muscle that knows when to flex into its own shapes and when to simply offer support.
The band reaches just a tad on closer “A Survivor’s Code. My Code.” Although lyrically resonant with its images of botched hide and seek games in darkened churches, Agrella’s falsetto sounds a little unsure, the only time his voice wavers on the record. The tweaking effects pedals and spacey keyboards at the end of the song make things feel a little crowded, but not enough to ruin an otherwise catchy, pounding slice of Pinback-worthy indie rock.
At a mere thirteen-and-a-half minutes, I wouldn’t be opposed to Gasp Asp being a bit longer. Then again, its length makes it the perfect record for the end of summer. Let it sink in before the season sheds its skin.
“You’re Not Afraid of the Dark Are You?”