5 May 2016

Eagulls / Ullages (album review)

Eagulls have been a band I've been excited about since they romped their way onto the scene with their barnstorming self-titled debut album in 2014. On the Eagulls record they poised themselves as Britain's primary provocateurs of punk rock; their sound had it all. It was angst-ridden, anger-fuelled, and combined a furious rage with lots of brilliantly interesting guitar tones that recalled both shoegaze and raw, dirty punk rock. The music on that album was the voice of the pissed off and disenfranchised, and god was it raging.

In that album, the Leeds five piece perfected punk rock, but with their follow up LP Ullages the band have tried to push their sound out even further and in doing so have bolstered their position as one of the UK's premier guitar bands. The name says it all really; Ullages. It's Eagulls, rearranged and muddled around in a way that is just as cold but a bit prettier and more elegant. The sound on this record is more experimental and boldly steps away for the punk rock in favour of a cold, dark version of dream-pop that sounds like it was concieved in a shed by five freezing guys in a Yorkshire shed.

Like I say, this is probably an album whose genre slots into the realms of 'dream-pop' in the same way that records like Disintegration and This Mortal Coil's It'll End In Tears do, and for the most parts its pretty effective - the band are pushing the boat out and for that you gotta have a fair amount of admiration. It's got it's post-punk moments too, and tracks like Skipping are just out and out goth numbers. Single My Life In Rewind is probably the slowest that the record comes; a slow moving chord sequence that is so Cure, but although the elegant guitar tones are gorgeous it's 5 minute runtime does feel very grating - it's got a lovely intro, a brilliant middle 8, but it feels like it gratingly drags its feet along.

The album's first 3 songs are among the slower numbers, and quite possibly the record's three least satisfying cuts. Heads Or Tails has a stand-offish menace, and is a solid opener as a claustrophobic mission statement for the rest of this record. Blankets of reverb flood out, and there's even a cheeky nod to Ride ('fingers crossed cos we're driving blind'), and whilst it's not as instant as anything on Eagulls it's got its own charm. Euphoria feels like a bit of a filler, underneath nice guitars and George Mitchell's trademark tetchy thick vocals barks there's not really too much of a song, whilst as I've already said My Life In Rewind is a few nice sounds stretched over a 5 minute runtime. It's probably worth adding that these three songs all sound kinda similar, with this warped dream-pop-post-punk thing occupying a similar sonic sphere throughout, which is o-kay, but ultimately kinda a bit unsatisfying.

But hey! After this the album steps up a gear - not necessarily in pace, but just in quality and intrigue. You've got a velvety suite of Harpstrings and Velvet, which goes from a gorgeously spiritual instrumental shimmer that it's impossible not to just temporarily lose yourself in and then you're plummeted into a catchy alt-pop banger that sees Eagulls do a catchy song where you can actually decipher the words.  And it's also followed by Psalms, which is a solid album track much in the vane of the opening trio; a nice one, but ultimately one of the more forgettable numbers on the album.

Towards the end though, your verdict on the album is made up for you. Where the first quarter of the album left you a bit cynical, the next satisfied, the remainder of Ullages from here leaves you very much infatuated with the band. The trio of Blume, Skipping and Lemontrees cover different ground so perfectly that it makes it seem as though Eagulls were destined to make this kinda unnerving dream-pop-post-punk hybrid.

Blume's almost the same Eagulls you loved in 2014; it's pretty fast paced and it has a chorus that you think you know and love instantly, before realising that you only know a handful of the phonics when you're trying to type it out in a pretentious review for your little indie blog. Skipping is a menacing slow number that sees George Mitchell's wounded cries of "am I a victim of monotony?" as hydraulic guitar tones and pinprick synths make the sure the song angles its way into your psyche with that kinda despotic snarl that Eagulls really try and rock. And of course, Lemontrees is a fantastic, anthemic work of thunderous youthful rebellion, where massive percussion sounds marry glowing guitar tones and Mitchell's cries brilliantly; it's obvious why this was a single, it's so instantly classic and really gives the whole album its mission statement, it's like a call-to-arms type mission statement that you can't quite get your head around the brilliance of in less than 10 listens.

The album's final two gems are Aisles and White Lie Lullabies, both of which have this kinda eery quality that give the album a well rounded feel by the end of it. Aisles feels otherworldly, juxtaposes a military drum beat with these spaced out guitar squalls, and White Lie Lullabies feels like a, well, lullaby, of the narcotic nightmare-inducing kind - "when we brush our teeth we strive to fall down the sink", Mitchell sings with such a snarl that it sounds as if the world's gonna end.

On this record, Ullages, what we've got is a very complete, very comprehensive departure of style, and I think, I THINK Eagulls have done a really quite incredible job of that. Their first record was perfect, it was perfect, so any kinda deviation was a brave move, but Eagulls have fully committed to skilfully embalming the senses with a record that is dark, cold and completely reflecting of darkening times...


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Words: Calum Cashin