For a band with such a straightforward approach, Let’s Wrestle has been hinting at greater potential for quite some time. With a sound somewhere between Hüsker Dü and the Pixies, the English indie-rock trio is built largely on the wit and hooks of singer-guitarist Wesley Patrick Gonzalez. Over the course of two EPs and debut album In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s, the guys have come across like a band of lovable town drunks: surly, given to odd turns of phrase, yet often charming and clever with hints that they might clean up nicely. That all changes with Nursing Home, as production legend Steve Albini sharpens the group’s teeth into the fangs Let’s Wrestle was always meant to bare.
Albini makes the most of the band’s simple power-trio setup here, keeping it raw and letting the bare edges of distorted bass and guitar up each other’s intensity. While the band’s previous recordings were solid documents of its developing songwriting prowess, Let’s Wrestle had always been much more interesting live, where its earnest, ramshackle energy could be appreciated in full. That vitality is finally fully rendered here, as Nursing Home‘s first half leaps out of the speakers in bursts of speedy, madcap brilliance. It’s the sound of a band poised to go for the jugular, leaving as little on the studio floor as possible with Gonzalez’s wry lyrics careening against strings and drums as if the band cut everything in a fit of first takes.
But it’s the band’s increased introspection, always present but especially pointed here, that really sets Nursing Home apart from Let’s Wrestle’s previous work. Gonzalez is strangely aware of the lyrical persona expected of him at this point, and even though he opens the album with surreal references to Pokémon and Queen Victoria on “In Dreams Part II,” songs like “For My Mother” and “Getting Rest” find him taking a direct and disarmingly honest approach. Yet he recognizes the need to keep his sarcastic side intact, even slyly rebuking himself in the chorus of “I Am Useful”: “I will not let my big emotions get a hold of me today/I’m gonna put an English face on this.”
The heightened seriousness could have cooled off these proceedings, but between the band’s huge hooks and Albini’s ability to highlight them, Let’s Wrestle has made the album it was long threatening to make. And unlike its first full-length, this record’s shorter and sweeter. As if aware the increased introspection ran the risk of weighting the album down, Nursing Home stops at 12 songs, the longest barely cracking three minutes. Even if the title of Nursing Home potentially alludes to a band that’s not quite OK with maturity, it’s easily Let’s Wrestle’s catchiest, most mature record to date.