Eagulls – Ullages

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I have been going to see Eagulls’ shows and buying their records for years now, and they’re a band who have constantly impressed me with every tune they have recorded. From Council Flat Blues onwards they have always been a go to band when someone asks to put a song on or if you’re pissed at a party and take over the music. Their live shows are riotous occasions, always packed out and the bands that they play with are always top-notch. So when the new album, Ullages, came out I obviously bought it straight away and I have to say that it is nothing short of a masterpiece. This is why I’m doing this review. Eagulls seem to be a breath of fresh air in our Diazepam and Prozac fuelled world, yet they tackle the problems head on instead of just trying to maskmy%20life%20in%20rewind_1456327188 the realities of it all.

To start off with, Peter Mitchell’s photography on the cover complements it beautifully with its vivid colours and atmospheric subject matter. On further investigation I found that he’s a photographer that is deeply rooted in the Leeds area where the band are based and this is no shock. Can you tell that something just looks a bit northern? Probably not, but I like to think I can.

Anyway, the album has a certain depth that could be seen as being missing from a lot of music, and this is one of the reasons that it should be regarded as a piece of art to behold. This review will delve into just a small proportion of what makes the album so great, however, it must be said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a cliché, I know, but all of the elements that I will discuss are truly something special, culminating together until the album has been experienced in its entirety.

The album opens with Heads or Tails. The music builds up slowly and seems to set a tone for the album as a whole.

‘We’re all thrown into a world

With a chance as good as any old pearls

We’re told everyday we should pray

Even if we haven’t sinned on the day

Oh I know the lights and sights don’t seem so bright sometimes

Without a stab in the dark’

These are the first words we hear. The whole album’s lyrics are bleak, poetic and beautiful. Like the sadness that lies in all British working class art, be it paintings, photography, cinema, literature, there is the despair of the life that they have been thrown into, yet somehow it is unbelievably beautiful when framed in any of these ways.

The depth of music and lyrics is spot on. It all builds together to one extremely ethereal and visceral experience. Some of the songs sound like the empty streets of Britain at night, under the glow of the yellow streetlamps. An image that encompasses a lost nation, unsure of reason or meaning. Lacking social cohesion. Everyday in a dream.

The second track, Euphoria, continues this imagery.

‘They’re wide awake in dreams

Dawn colours beam

A stolen car screams past the early morning light’

The strongly atmospheric imagery continues throughout the album, again using images that you might imagine to see in the visual British arts, images that viscerally conjure emotions. Lyrics such as:

‘Is our future grey as the slabs on our drives?’ (Psalms)

‘We felt like the Woolworths store

Had shut its doors with its sweet racks full’ (Aisles)

‘Behind the tasteless old netted blinds’ (Psalms)

They use imagery and, to a certain extent, metaphysical writing that doesn’t add pretentiousness but strikes emotional cords of understanding. When accompanied by the music, it becomes even more of a subconscious heartfelt agreement between artist and audience.

The music sounds deceptively simple at first listen; it sounds simple because of the density, but as you delve in again and again you notice nuances that you didn’t at first. The bass and guitar go seamlessly in and out of tandem, and there is often an understated wavering in the background, enhancing the ethereal quality, that adds a dream-like haze. The track Harpstrings acts in this way as a musical interlude, giving you time to reflect. The lone guitar really does feel alone. Sounds of emotional searching, slightly out of tune, lost, wishing. You’re seeing, hearing, feeling the words through theses sounds yet they’re fictionalised accounts, of course. It’s all part of a journey the band are taking you on, but… it is real. And you know it’s real because you feel it.

Another theme that seems to crop up is lost love.

‘Cupid’s in our reprobate arms and he’s deceiving

He’s sealing up the well to our hearts to watch us stay alone

He’s building up our own Noah’s ark to watch us sink it’ (Velvet)

Even when love is topic of the songs, we’re always conscious of its unsustainability. Through past experiences? Cynicism? Paranoia? It would seem more fitting, with the content of the album as a whole, that the picture you get is of a broken home. Maybe it would be acceptable to assume that there’s not much experience of love everlasting, this would almost be like a fairy tale that has long been grown out of. It’s fatalistic in this way of seeing only one outcome. Then, when the love has actually gone comes the longing:

‘Oh dead roses I know it’s over

Oh dead roses I still can picture you

Still all the while all I could think

Was how to bring my roses back in bloom’ (Blume)

It’s important to look at this theme of fate as this is what it all boils down to. The song Psalms uses the image of ‘the lines on our palms’ to represent this lack of choice. This fate is broadened by the use of ‘us’ and ‘we’, to emphasise that we are all in this boat. It’s not self-indulgent, it’s more social commentary. They don’t want to accept it though, and this is what working class art has, near enough, always boiled down to. An irreplaceable destiny and, if you don’t want it, then it can be a hard and daunting task to escape. This is returned to throughout the album, like on Skipping where ‘life is like a broken record playing’.

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Aisle is an interesting track with its marching band snare and magical strums of guitar, giving the sound of innocence and childhood as ‘sweet racks’ and ‘Ba Ba Blacksheep’ are referenced. The innocence and beauty gets tainted by experience in a Blakeian fashion and shows how, in our lust filled society, we want everything and worse of all, we think we can have it.

White Lie Lullabies ends the album and sums it up well with:

‘Like Lowryesque figures, bin bags under ice pop blue eyes’

Again, vivid imagery portrays the innocence of those in the situations put forward. I see in my head those Lowry paintings, Industrial Landscape or Coming from the Mill, everytime I drive past the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, Mansfield. If you happen to be going past at a shift change you see swathes of people coming and going. If you were to put tracksuits on Lowry’s paintings it would no doubt be nearly identical to that today. Then the line:

‘Oh, when an anchor with a “w” in front becomes boss’

Can you think of a line more fitting for, what could be called the poster-boy for all that is wrong with capitalism, Mike Ashley?

The song then crescendos to a finish. The album is over.

This is an album that I am sure you will get more out of with every listen. I may have got the intentions of the album completely wrong, but the great thing is that there’s so much room for interpretation. There is so much more to it than I have mentioned, I have only scratched the surfaced here. I could go on about drugs, regret, binge drinking, religion, there are so many issues touched upon inside the album. I feel that it is a truly essential masterpiece, not in a canonised way, but in the way that a human needs the satisfaction of reflection in a way that can truly resonate the soul. Magnificent, beautiful and proper.

Buy the album, go and see them live and then tell me they’re not the best band of our ostracised generation.

Buy an album here.

Lyrics: Eagulls

Cover photography: Peter Mitchell

Live photography: Sophie Pitchford

Review: Jim Gibson

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