The beasts gnashing their teeth on the cover of Look Mexico’s sophomore full-length imply something violent and abrasive on the inside. While that sentiment does not come out in the band’s overall sound — a mix of 2000s-era indie styles, occasional Western twang and polite mathy elements — it definitely manifests itself in singer/guitarist Matt Agrella’s lyrics. Far from being mopey, self-indulgent tripe, his words articulate realistic portrayals of despondence and doubt. It’s an album of restraint, not only in sound, but also in keeping the negativity from overflowing with a genuine sense of hope.
This practice of restraint does tend to hold the album back at times, as there are quite a few moments where it seems like the flood gates are going to burst into an epic crescendo or crashing ending that simply never comes. Instead, the album seems to be more about technique and tasteful experimentation than visceral, gut-punching moments. At times, that seems at odds with the confessional lyrics. While a track like “Until The Lights Burnout?” doesn’t manage to rise above a simmering boil, it does successfully pile other instruments into the mix, a tinkling piano being the most effective. The most thrilling moments come when the tempo gets ratcheted up, such as in the galloping climax of “I Live My Life A Quarter Mile At A Time,” which features Agrella shredding his vocal cords while the cavernous-sounding guitars triumphantly stomp upward.
What can’t be ignored is the attention the Tallahassee quintet has paid to its songwriting this time around. Late-album highlight “Time For You To Go Do Your Own Thing” revolves around a pretty basic song structure, but the flittering drumming of Joshua Mikel and Dave Hinkham’s shimmering keyboard parts elevate the song from a languid ballad to a seductively pulsing mid-tempo number. The song is a great example of musical democracy, with each member contributing highlights that make a memorable whole.
On the second half of the album, Look Mexico gets more spacey and technical without sacrificing the poppier elements of the earlier songs. Throughout the course of To Bed To Battle, you hear the band in an exciting state of evolution, trying out new things, finding out that they work, and then employing them again to better returns.