Eagulls still flex plenty of muscle, but with greater restraint, and often the refinement has a way of preventing the music from feeling like anything other than a glossy but otherwise flat exterior.
Leeds five-piece Eagulls‘ self-titled debut was an album to be reckoned with; a menacing blending of atmospheric post-punk and noisy shoegaze that could feel oddly comforting even at its most unsettling (which it often was). Following it up has proven to be something of a challenge, as ‘Eagulls’ offered just the right mix of raw simplicity and complexity that made their music intriguing.
Two years later, ‘Ullages’ (an anagram of the band’s name) sees them making a logical progression towards further embracing their pop sensibility. The churning noise has been smoothed over, and manic tempos have been swapped out in favor of slower dramatic build ups and an overall less confrontational sound: the previously abrasive guitars are more reverb-heavy, the bass has been pushed forward in places and occasionally cuts through the mix with a jagged melodic rumble while the drums echo in the background.
The shift in direction occasionally works, like on the anthemic surge of ‘Euphoria,’ the shimmering and surprisingly upbeat ‘Blume,’ (which brings to mind pre-‘Ocean Rain’ Echo & the Bunnymen) or the ghostly beauty of ‘Velvet.’ George Mitchell is no longer screaming with tattered howls, instead embracing a bruised tone that conjures a young Robert Smith. Reductive as that comparison may be, it’s also pretty undeniable, and on ‘Velvet’ and ‘Blume’ in particular, this approach is most effective as he pushes the sense of despair into even darker spaces with a greater urgency. It’s impressive how much control he has over his range, but the similarities can unfortunately can be a little distracting at times.
The band still flex plenty of muscle, but with greater restraint, and often the refinement has a way of preventing the music from feeling like anything other than a glossy but otherwise flat exterior. Songs like ‘Psalms’ and ‘My Life in Rewind’ for example linger unnecessarily long where they were likely meant to be cinematic. They’re capable of writing pretty harmonies and reaching for even greater emotional depths, but it comes at the expense of the intensity that made their debut so thrilling. That isn’t to say Eagulls lack conviction or passion or emotional range. What prevents them from conveying it is that they sound like a band in transition that’s exploring a promising new direction they are likely to fully develop next time around.