Two years is a long time in music. Just ask Eagulls. Having released their self-titled debut in the early part of 2014, they've spent the next couple of years regrouping and reassessing their wares. Having also changed management just before the first record came out, the ensuing period since has seen them change their sound somewhat too. Gone are the brash statements of intent that perpetuated the admittedly brilliant debut. Instead, there's a more reflective and at times introverted outlook at play here.
Calling the record Ullages possibly hints at the band's state of flux at the time. Essentially the airspace between the seal and liquid in a receptacle or vessel, one thing Ullages cannot be accused of containing is empty space. Of course, Ullages is also an anagram of the band's name, so maybe there was an exercise in playfulness at large as well.
However, having listened to Ullages several times, it's anything but a joyous or playful record. At times an uneasy listen – unlike its predecessor, which dealt with anxiety channeled through a relentless surge of youthful exuberance – Ullages seems more philosophical from a lyrical perspective. "It's hard to tell who we are this time" cries George Mitchell on opener 'Heads Or Tails' as though stuck in the middle of some identity crisis. And while sonically a million miles away from anything off Eagulls, there's a definitive presence in his vocal that can only belong to one voice.
It's the musical palette that has altered dramatically. Not beyond recognition but certainly to a place few would have expected upon listening to their previous works. While Mitchell and his colleagues have cited numerous influences during the making of Ullages from Scott Walker and The Animals to X Factor pop puppets One Direction, there's definitely an Eighties guitar band fixation going on here. Whether deliberate or otherwise, The Smiths and particularly Johnny Marr's distinctive twang clearly played a part in inspiring the deft collages and textures that punctuate Ullages from start to finish.
From 'Heads Or Tails' right through to closer 'White Lie Lullabies', there's something in the air that's instinctively touched with the same poise and grace as The Smiths in their heyday. Sometimes, as on 'Skipping' and 'Psalms', it's so close to the bone one could mistake the former for 'How Soon Is Now' and the latter 'I Know It's Over'. But don't let that put you off. Scratch beneath the surface in each case and there's something altogether more sinister occurring underneath the veneer. _"All I ever wanted was an answer" spits Mitchell over Mark Goldsworthy's insatiable guitar solo on 'Skipping' while 'Psalms' revels in its slow-but-heavy build-up, eventually taking shape as a funereal lullaby of sorts.
Elsewhere, 'Euphoria' follows The Horrors in fusing dreampop with huge, Eighties-style choruses. Revolving around a nagging, insistent riff, Mitchell declares poignantly "Chasing an escape to another life, in a living dream." 'Lemontrees' could be Simple Minds had Jim Kerr and co met in Leeds six years ago while 'Aisles' forages a similar path to Ice Age or Girl Band in its eloquent use of noise infused rhythms to spread its message.
What's most encouraging about Ullages is that despite its mournful air and disparaging sentiment, its actually quite an addictive record that demands undivided attention with every subsequent listen. More importantly, while perhaps not as immediate or instantly accessible as Eagulls, it represents a marked progression for a band seemingly intent on developing themselves at every possible juncture.
8Dom Gourlay's Score