Indie quintet follows up surprise success of debut album with the ambitious Ullages, but still struggle to find much to be positive about.
Leeds quintet Eagulls emerged in 2014 in a crescendo of shredding guitars, fast drum rhythms, and lyrics of anger and disillusionment. At times, Eagulls was equally terrifying and enthralling, and it brought recognition and success, both in their homeland and the U.S., with an appearance on Letterman being the highlight. This second album represents an expanding sound and growing ambitions (with varying degrees of success).
At the turn of the decade, indie rock in the UK had suffered a slow and painful decline following the high point of the mid-noughties, where any group of lads with guitars and a drum kit could seemingly get signed. Since then, the music industry has evolved and the place for indie seemed to be shrinking. There have of course been some exceptions, and very good exceptions, to that rule, such as Foals and Maccabees and the Vaccines. However, on the whole the trend has been decline, with the transition of NME to a weekly freebie symbolic of this. The last few years however have shown signs of a resurgence, with shoots of talent breaking the surface, including Eagulls, Wolf Alice, and Circa Waves.
The first album was a bundle of virulent anger and angst-driven lyrics that condemned society and people and reflected the disillusionment and hopelessness of youth. The band captured and bottled the feelings of youth in a way so thrilling that it arguably hadn’t been chronicled in such a way since the debut Arctic Monkeys album. It was also very much a British album, so whilst sonically similar to US indie bands such as Wavves and Cloud Nothings, it had something different that set the band apart. As a whole, though, the album sagged in places as the one-dimensional sound and lead singer’s throaty delivery became a little monotonous.
On creating the follow up, Ullages, the band doesn’t appear to have suffered under the weight of expectation that success brings. Instead, they have challenged themselves to expand their horizons and look for new challenges, but the album still suffers from some of the same pitfalls as its predecessor.
Opener “Heads or Tails” shows the evolution in sound, sounding less ‘70s punk or ‘90s alt and more ‘80s angst. Lead singer George Mitchell has even mastered his best Robert Smith impersonation as he sings over guitars drenched in reverb. Lyrical content remains dour but less angry and more dejected in general. Regret takes over tracks such as “Life in Rewind”. "Psalms", for example, beings with “Is our future grey as the slabs on our drives / Our fortune and fame hidden between our thin lines”, and it later bemoans hand-me-downs and the lack of work in society that are “signs of the times”. Much like on Eagulls, the vocal performance here can wear eventually, but this is a much more controlled performance. Lyrically, there is also much more to celebrate; in particular, on tracks such as “Lemontrees” and closer “White Lie Lullabies”.
Stylistically, there is some variety, with mid-album tracks “Blume” and “Skipping” lifting the tempo slightly. There are also little flickers of hope as Mitchell hopes to see “dead roses bloom”, but these are scant. “Skipping” is the closest the album comes to its predecessor and continues the sense of alienation as the singer asks questions that no one can answer, like “How much longer I can play?”
It is a shame some of the anger and drive of the first album has been lost on this one, but as the band evolves that youthful angst couldn’t be sustained forever and this album has shown an openness to evolution, whether that is to everyone’s preference or not. It doesn’t sound as fresh and exciting as the debut, but the changes made work for the most part and continue to demonstrate the band's potential to be a prominent feature in British indie for years to come.