‘Ullage’ is defined as ‘the amount by which a container falls short of being full’. Granted, it is normally used to refer to the leakage of liquid from barrels or casks, but it seems fitting for Eagulls. Aside from being an anagram of the band’s name, it forges connotations to the feeling of dissatisfaction, disaffection and discomfort with modern life that is ever-present in the band’s music and songwriting. Their 2014 self-titled debut album was a dark portrait of grim towns, pain and frustration. After finding success and gathering a cult following through their debut, 2 years down the line, they have emerged from the studio armed with a follow-up.
Sophomore LP Ullages sees the Leeds five-piece retain their knack of churning out spine-tingling guitar riffs. They may not all be that memorable but they have that something special that you can’t quite put your finger on. Guitarists Mark Goldsworthy and Liam Matthews have noticeably developed their musicianship and on this album, they seem to be constantly experimenting with the sounds a guitar can make. The product of this is 11 tracks of almost Johnny Marr-like jangly riffs that don’t lose their angst-ridden edge, ensuring that Eagulls stay true to their post-punk roots.
Goldsworthy and Matthews demonstrate their ability further on instrumental interlude “Harpstrings” which flows seamlessly into the next track – highlighting the cohesiveness of this LP. Ullages feels more like an album than the band’s debut, which came across as nothing more than a compilation of songs.
Frontman George Mitchell’s intelligent but modest lyricism is not lost on Ullages – his subtle digs at the mundanity of modern life and qualms with religion are rife. After the release of the first album, the singer revealed that “Yellow Eyes” was written about institutionalised religion and growing up with a vicar as a grandfather. This time around, it’s “Psalms” that takes a shot at religion, with George warbling: “twisting my arm, the lines on our palms/psalms”.
Just like the guitar, much of the songwriting on the album is more considered and complex than the snarling brashness of the Eagulls’ debut. It drops the repetitive choruses of songs like “Hollow Visions” but does include a song comparing repetition in life to a needle skipping on a broken record, titled simply; “Skipping”. George’s trademark metaphors are complemented by looped guitar which recreates the sound of a needle scratching against vinyl. Skipping, which will be released as a single, steadily builds a sense of euphoria and feels like it could be an early Stone Roses hit.
Second single “Lemontrees” was the first track from Ullages to be revealed. It instantly shattered any prejudices about Eagulls that they were incapable of writing music that wasn’t well… miserable. Lemontrees’ upbeat, sun-drenched indie-pop riff caught everyone off guard. However, George’s lyrics aren’t all sunshine and rainbows – tales of disaffected living still lead the way. The shining guitar serves as an effective guise for this lamentation. “Beneath the lemon trees, it tastes bittersweet” yelps George. ‘Bittersweet’ is without a doubt the defining word of this single.
Ullages sees Eagulls as the more mature, skilled and refined musicians most bands are on their sophomore effort. Loyal fans will be happy that they haven’t lost their uncompromising punk attitudes, while critics will be impressed with the progression of their sound and the composition of this tight-knit album. It still feels like Eagulls have more to offer, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Standout Tracks: Skipping, Lemontrees, Heads or Tails, Psalms
On Ullages, Eagulls don’t stray as far outside of their comfort zone as first seemed to be the case, but offer a fresh and more considered approach to their trademark cynicism.