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In 2014, Eagulls exploded on the scene with their self-titled, debut album. Eagulls was not just another album – it was a mind-blowing experience. It was ten songs and 45 minutes of high-intensity, cathartic post-punk music that incessantly wailed guitar salvo after guitar salvo, hammering bass lines, and crushing percussion while frontman George Mitchell’s hallowing vocals hypnotized you. This album made a lot of year-end lists that year, including our own, and in looking back that Eagulls it’s one of the best albums in the past decade – bar none.
When the Leeds-based five-piece started sharing photographs of them recording in a church late 2015, needless to say there was an excitement that buzzed through here and Eagulls were an easy addition to our list of Most Anticipated Albums for 2016. But how could the band come remotely close to repeating the rawness and ecstasy that was felt on their debut? It’s virtually an impossible task.
Instead of trying to replicate what Eagulls achieved, the band has opted to re-shuffle the deck and evolve on their sophomore album, Ullages, an anagram of their name. It is less blistering and cathartic post-punk but more of the dark, goth-rock that The Cure perfected in the early ’80s, specifically on Pornography and Disintegration. The change in approach has resulted in a sound that is richer and more expansive, more layered and calculated. Whereas Eagulls blew us away with the non-stop energy, Ullages attempts to get into our psyche and entrance us with a wall of dark, haunting melodies and provocative and intensely personal stories and memories. So if Eagulls was mind-blowing, Ullages is spellbinding.
“Euphoria” is the most mesmerizing of the album’s eleven songs. The song is urgent yet breathtaking, as Mitchell shares the feeling of being trapped by the weight of expectations by others and. The combination of crystalline and delayed guitars by Mark Goldsworthy and Liam Matthews take the track to a state of euphoria while Henry Ruddel’s drumming provides the heart-racing pulse to the track. At times, the song echoes really early U2, namely the Irish legends’ debut Boy and the song “Electro Co.”
The introspective approach is repeated on “My Life in Rewind”, which sounds both mournful and regretful as Mitchell channels his inner Robert Smith. “Velvet”, meanwhile, is a surprising lush tune that combines shoegaze and ’80s angst rock. It’s a stunning song that follows a young man seeking his place in this complicated world. “Skipping”, the album’s lead single, bridges the band’s old and new skins. This dark, harrowing, pulsating number is hypnotic and intoxicating. And similar to “My Life in Rewind”, the song sees the band master The Cure’s sense of allegory, irony, and drama.
Sandwiched around “Skipping” are “Blume” and “Lemontrees”, the most uptempo tracks on the album that see the Eagulls have not completely forgotten their roots. While not quite the blistering pace-setters as “Nerve Endings” or “Possessed”, the band does ratchet up the pace to give us two memorable songs. “Blume” is a guitar-driven beauty akin to Joy Division. “Lemontrees” is arguably the album’s most diverse and expansive track, as it blends The Cure’s goth rock, the early social disdain heard on U2’s punk-ish days, and the crystalline guitars a la My Bloody Valentine. The two tracks also demonstrate how far Mitchell has grown as a songwriter, moving away from self-centered stories to writing songs with a social conscience.
Ullages, however, isn’t without its fault. “Harpstrings” is nothing more than an unnecessary interlude that would have been best shortened and added to the start of “Velvet”. On “Psalms”, Eagulls go really melodic – really melodic. The song feels like an unrealized experiment that attempts to blend pop and goth-rock with mixed results at best.
Despite these two hiccups, Ullages is still a fantastic album. It is darker, it is moodier, and it is by far a denser and more cerebral album than Eagulls’ debut from two years ago. Ullages is an album that will both immediately grab your attention for its heart-pounding goth-rock, surprise you with its increased utilization of shoegaze, and possibly puzzle you for the band’s decision to go in a much different direction than their post-punk origins. This transformation, however, is a demonstration of a band not willing to be stagnant, but instead explore new depths in its sound. As a result, Eagulls have given us an album that, like with their debut, will be remembered for giving us something that blew our minds in new ways.
Ullages is out now via Partisan Records. Eagulls are George Mitchell (vocals), Mark Goldsworthy (guitar), Liam Matthews (guitar), Tom Kelly (bass), and Henry Ruddel (drummer).
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