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Album Review: Look Mexico – To Bed To Battle

B-

Artists

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Cohesion is a sign of aging well, and while Look Mexico is still young, they show a remarkable sense of maturity on their sophomore album To Bed To Battle, toning down the scatological math jamming found on their earlier work in favor of songs that are tighter, darker, and more dramatic. The lyrics suffer in the process, but it’s nice to see them harness their scatter shot energy for a more unified approach.

Simply put, the band sounds angrier. But it’s a balanced anger, a melodic rage that knows when to hold back and then swoop in for dramatic flair at all the right moments.  Lead singer Matt Agrella continues to dabble in the throatier side of his vocals (a balance he found nicely on 2008’s Gasp Asp EP), lead guitarist Ryan Slate alternates between sunny steel lap guitar (“Take It Upstairs, Einstein”) and walls of distortion (the haunting, orchestral “I Live My Life A Quarter Mile At A Time”), bassist Ryan Smith chugs along smoothly and riffs at all the right moments (check out the end of “No Wonder I’m Still Awake”), keyboardist Dave Pinkham tinges everything with an aquatic, ghostly ether, and former drummer Josh Mikel escalates the beat with breakneck adrenaline before hushing back down into a field music fog (you can almost hear the crickets during the first half of “Until The Lights Burn Out?”). Always a steamboat force in the band, he will be sorely missed on their next release.

However, the band’s dire shifts between aggression and sentimentality sometime get the best of them, particularly in the lyrics.  Although there isn’t a single weak track on the album, Agrella’s words often come off as a little too straightforward and melodramatic. Metaphors like “maybe a good friend is like a great story/you can pick up right where you left off” somehow feel both familiar and apathetic, and barbs like “in case you haven’t noticed, I’m wearing black again” are just plain heavy-handed. It’s tough to find that appropriate balance between burdensome, overt language and a vague splatter of lyrics rooted solely in imagery (a habit Agrella fell into on their first album) and to be fair, he manages to achieve it in the words for one of the album’s best tracks, opener and first single “You Stay.  I Go.  No Following.”.  Statements like “Falling through the cracks, we are dodging the radio waves/and thanks to all your promises, we’re picking up extra shifts up these days/and it’s not paying the bills, working for minimum wage” capture a frustration universal enough for listeners to relate to while still containing images that make it distinct, its personal angst and wonderfully cryptic politics reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie’s We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes.

The band recently relocated from their native Tallahassee, FL to Austin, TX (as exhibited in “They Only Take The Backroads”, a soothing, bittersweet tribute to the Sunshine State). It’s familiar territory for them — after all, they’ve had their fair share of SXSW experiences — but it’s a little more rugged and risque than the small town Florida capital. With that in mind, it’ll be interesting (to say the least) to see how the band reacts. Odds are we’re in for a sharper sound and an angrier one, too. Let’s hope it’s not too angry.

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