Look Mexico heads ‘To Bed to Battle,’ edging ever closer to its rock masterpiece

Look Mexico with Weatherbox and Meddle
8 p.m. Sunday
the Conservatory
8911 N. Western

While some bands’ first album is the apogee of their efforts, for most, it often takes a few years to round into form.

Much of that evolution requires finding the right chemistry, which generally means tinkering with the lineup. Look Mexico’s already replaced every member but singer/guitarist Matt Agrella. Yet with each change, the group’s gotten closer to realizing its potential, and there’s a sense with its latest shakeup that the best is yet to come.

The act is on tour supporting its second full-length, “To Bed to Battle,” which tempers the knotty, undulating, arrangements that on earlier releases earned the band comparisons to Minus the Bear. While still richly textured and somewhat mathematical, the structures are a bit more straightforward, as the indie-rock undercurrent it’s always possessed ” reminiscent of first-wave emo acts such as The Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World ” comes more to the fore.

When Look Mexico first formed at Florida State University in 2004, the band was a decidedly different act.

“We were a good bit goofier than we are now. That was our thing: to be really off the wall,” Agrella said. “(Former drummer) Josh Mikel and our old guitarist (Dave Bumsted) had written some pretty funny stuff on MySpace. It seemed like we were less of a band and more some kind of comedy troupe.”

The group has retained a bit of that old irreverence, most notably in song titles such as “Dude, You Have a Bazooka” and “Take It Upstairs, Einstein,” which are all snatches of dialogue from Vin Diesel movies. After releasing a pair of EPs, Bumsted was replaced by Ryan Slate for the 2007 full-length “This Is Animal Music.” Bassist Ryan Smith replaced Tyson Kuhlhoff, and keyboardist Dave Pinkham also joined, forging a new sound for 2008’s “Gasp Asp” EP.

The four songs on “Gasp Asp” begin to trace this new direction. There’s a stronger rock pulse abetted by tighter structures that don’t diverge so much into oddly timed breaks. Bursts of tightly wound muscularity remain, but they fit better within the songs, adding emotional tension to counteract the hooks, rather than overloading them with distracting pieces.

It all culminates with “To Bed to Battle.” While easily Look Mexico’s most varied album instrumentally ” with horns and strings joining the festivities ” it’s also their most unapologetically propulsive, boasting a live feel that belies its studio aspect.

“We wanted to have it all there, and not leave anything out that we thought was important to the textures and tones of the songs. When we were doing it, there were definitely a lot of songs where if I could’ve, I would’ve tried to put on horns and strings,” Agrella said.

He was held back by the stronger group dynamic, as the addition of Smith and Pinkham prompted a more measured approach to songwriting.

“Whereas on ‘This Is Animal Music,’ we were all doing our own stuff and it just happened to fall on each other and create a song, now we intermingle more and listen harder to what each other’s playing,” Agrella said, also noting the influence of their producer, who accented the rock element in the mixes. “He’s really good at putting a lot of energy into the stuff.”

The final piece of the puzzle is Mikel’s departure. Argella said half the arguing about the new album was spent trying to convince him to play less. Unsuccessful, the group pulled back on other elements to keep the songs uncluttered. Mikel quit just before the CD release tour, forcing the band to scramble. Drummer Alex Gooding came aboard, bringing along a laid-back demeanor that was just what Look Mexico needed, Argella said.
Since moving to Austin, Texas, they’ve secured a few local gigs, and are exchanging demos of new material. There’s a sense among the members that the moment is now.

“I don’t want to say we have to write our masterpiece, but it’s getting harder doing this service-industry stuff,” said Agrella, referencing “Just Like Old Times,” the new album’s profession-questioning closing track. “That song ” and the whole album, really ” is somewhat depressing, but there’s a glimmer of hope, like, yeah, it might feel like time is running out, but at the same time, I don’t really have a choice.

“This is what my passion is and this is what we do. We just have to focus on that and try to write the best music we possibly can.” “Chris Parker

Chris Parker

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