[11 March 2014]
If you’ve heard of Eagulls before now, it probably has to do with a controversial note the band posted on their website in 2012 lambasting the music industry. This instance of biting the hand that feeds was a controversial one, but a lot of the talk about the band’s outburst focused on a single segment of the letter that many found to be misogynistic. What got lost in the chatter, though, was that nothing about what Eagulls did was especially new: their complaints about the music business were the same complaints many before them have had, and the very nature of their outburst wouldn’t have been out of place coming from the likes of Steve Albini (though Eagulls don’t possess invective as acerbic as Albini). As it turns out, the music on Eagulls’ self-titled debut album is also part of that same tired argument.
The album is a bit of a conundrum on first listen: it’s quite clear what kind of songs Eagulls are trying to write, but they undercut themselves at every turn. Structurally, the band stay within a pretty basic, punk-derived framework, but Mark Goldsmith and Liam Matthews’ guitars are layered with reverb when one would normally expect a clear, precise tone. One would assume that this was an attempt to distinguish Eagulls with so many similar bands getting exposure at the same time, but it just saps power and energy from the songs on here. Even so, bands like Merchandise and Iceage have already tread this ground, trying somehow to meld hardcore and shoegaze into a reverb-laden mush. Where Eagulls should have an edge, where they should be ferocious, they just come across as dull.
That dullness is only emphasized by the monochromatic nature of Eagulls. Punk (or post-punk, or hardcore, or whatever this new brand of three-chord rock is going to call itself in a few months) has a tendency to get a little same-y to the casual listener, but after repeated listens, the songs on Eagulls don’t distinguish themselves at all. A handful of them (“Possessed”, “Opaque”) manage to stick thanks to some fine guitar work. Mostly, though, the album is just slog after three-minute-slog in which George Mitchell bellows over the same handful of chords, sounding alternately bemused and infuriated. Lyrically, Mitchell offers about as much as the band’s music does: not much that you haven’t heard before (and better) elsewhere. Mitchell’s take on alienation and frustration (all well-worn topics in this genre) isn’t a particularly incisive take on the subject. Even when he gets relatively explicit, as he does on “Nerve Endings”, it doesn’t cut the way it’s supposed to.
As I’ve said before, there isn’t anything wrong with revival in pop music per se, and Eagulls’ main issue isn’t just that they’re some sort of nostalgia act. The real flaw of both the band and this album is that it tries really hard to be as acid-tongued and visceral as the albums that undoubtedly inspired it. Ultimately, though, the band is just too conservative to really pull it off. Far from being as incisive as Albini or as sonically daring as Kevin Shields, Eagulls have created something akin to comfort food, an album to soothe the fears of guitar nuts afraid that feedback-driven six-string assaults were somehow in danger of going extinct. Perhaps we’ll see more publicity stunts from Eagulls in the future; at this rate, their music isn’t going to challenge anyone.