Eagulls, the five-piece post-punk outfit formed in Leeds six years ago, arrived at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms last week to conclude a “short but sweet” tour of their second album, Ullages, which was released earlier this year.
Whilst this latest LP was generally received as a “sophomore slump” by most sections of the music press – due, largely, to the absence of the menacing vitriol and pacey, pounding song structures that defined their debut effort – their performance on Thursday night was strong, composed and exciting to watch, proving to their critics that they aren’t to be dismissed yet.
“Eagulls wear their influences on their sleeves…”
Accompanying Eagulls throughout their UK tour were fellow post-punkers Protomartyr. Hailing all the way from Detroit, the group appeared on stage to waves of applause before launching into a forty minute set of favourites, drawing mostly from their 2015 LP release Agent Intellect.
Frontman Joe Casey is compelling – he stalks about the stage, Stella can in hand, like the group called someone up from the crowd to fill in last minute. He drawls in his baritone voice; the vocals jar with the often-frantic surrounding arrangements, but the lyrics match the barren, cavernous atmosphere their music evokes.
Just as with Protomartyr, Eagulls wear their influences on their sleeves. Where Eagulls channelled the energy and antipathy of Joy Division, so Ullages was infused with the dreamy aesthetics of later post-punk icons like The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen. They opened the evening with ‘Lemontrees’, one of the stronger tracks from Ullages, and as George Mitchell’s distinctive vocals fill the room, the crowd settled in for what transpired to be a confident, energising performance.
The group know to play to their strengths, it isn’t long before they pull out sure-fire crowd-pleasers like ‘Tough Luck’ and the buzzsaw guitar parts on ‘Nerve Endings’. In between songs, Mitchell holds his microphone to a cassette player and ominous, muffled voice recordings fill the gaps. He doesn’t speak much throughout the gig, they squeeze as many songs into the evening as they can.
“They succeed in vocalising frustrations, unfairness, futility, and putting it into music that brings people together for a little catharsis”
The strongest tracks from Ullages come to life in the live arena, as is to be expected from an album that relies on a bigger, more atmospheric sound that is harder to capture on a record. The highlight here is certainly ‘Skipping’; the driving bass that opens the track rattles through everyone in the room, the rolling drum fills build up the sound again as the spare, hovering guitar parts cut across the unsettling whole, as Mitchell bellows with futility, “Am I scratch where the needle slipped? … All I ever wanted was an answer.”
This is not a band that seeks to provide any such uplifting conclusions, but that’s not the point: they succeed in vocalising frustrations, unfairness, futility, and putting it into music that brings people together for a little catharsis. The next challenge for this now well-established group is to carve out a distinct place for themselves in amongst the various, influential bands that they clearly revere so much.
Image courtesy of Ian Cheek Press