Eagulls: Ullages

Scott Wallace
19th May 2016

The Eagull-eyed among us will recognise immediately that the title of the second album from Leeds five-piece Eagulls is an anagram of their name. An "ullage" is the amount by which any vessel falls short of being full, and it's a title that feels doubly appropriate given the searching, frustrated nature of the music contained within, and the way the band have cleverly re-arranged the sound of their well-received first record without losing the hyper-emotional spark that defined them in the first place.

Opener "Heads or Tails" is a brilliant start to the record, with its shuddering, whirling arrangement actually making the listener feel like a coin tossed aimlessly into the air. The words that George Mitchell sings in his high, pinched tenor are awash with crippling uncertainty. With the first track, the scene is set for the record; Even the softer moments like the lush "My Life in Rewind" with its ghostly, wordless backing vocals, or the thick, foggy "Velvet" are seething with discontent.

The fullness of the band's arrangements and sound are strongly reminiscent of 1980s post-punk, goth rock and dream-pop groups. Mitchell sounds uncannily similar to The Cure's Robert Smith (though without the sneer), and Mark Goldsworthy and Liam Matthew's soft, textured guitars recall Scottish band Cocteau Twins. Eagulls throwback sound succeeds better than other bands who mine the same era because they are adept at creating tension and texture with competing and complementary sounds.

Even the less memorable tracks, like the faintly luminous "Euphoria" or the swaying "Psalms" are sonically gorgeous. The production makes it feel as if these songs are waiting to be touched and explored and unearthed. By dialling back the outward aggression of their first record, Eagulls have created something that engages with the listener less immediately, but more profoundly than before.

When that aggression does re-emerge on the dark, pulsating "Skipping," it feels controlled and focused. It's a marvellous performance as Tom Kelly's thick, rubbery bass forms a callous under Mitchell's steady, gradually erupting vocal performance. The band clearly understand the engrossing power of simmering tension over outright rage, and use it to brilliant effect on the record's powerful final third, the peak of which is the loping, clattering "Aisles."

The sustained, downcast mood of Ullages arguably grows somewhat wearying by the time the record comes to the end, but the record as a whole shows a mature and progressive evolution for the band. They stretch out in terms of rhythm, melody, structure and texture across these eleven tracks, and while they don't always produce solid gold, the results are always solid enough to recommend. Eagulls still feel a little like a band without a set identity, but Ullages shows they're working it out.

Ullages is out now on digital platforms, with a physical CD release to follow on Friday May 27th.