These birds have learned to fly, but have yet to travel long distance.
Eagulls – Eagulls
For a band named after a bird (and a pun on Don Henley’s crew), Eagulls sure are fascinated by the human body. In September 2013, this British outfit released a music video for single “Nerve Endings” that depicted a super sped-up film of a pig brain decomposing. This brain was similar enough to a human brain, just as they had wanted, that someone who discovered the brain where it was being filmed thought it was human, and called the police. Now, six months later, without any legal repercussions from the “Nerve Endings” video, Eagulls deliver a self-titled debut filled with song titles like “Yellow Eyes”, “Footsteps”, “Amber Veins”, and “Fester/Blister.” If their interest in anatomy wasn’t blatant enough already, it sure is now. The focus seems to be on rotting body parts, and the music matches: Eagulls sounds like a shoegaze soundtrack for someone’s slow death.
In sound, Eagulls have precedents in fellow British acts The Horrors, but that band’s name would be much better applied to Eagulls. The searing hybrid punk-shoegaze guitars that The Horrors are known for also open Eagulls’ “Nerve Endings”, and thus their debut album. This sound continues through Eagulls‘ ten tracks, and it’s done better than their forebears have achieved. Lyrically, though, they don’t quite have any predecessors: what other band could make “There’s no reason, no sense, no meaning behind my awkward smile” seem like this smile is that of a deeply troubled person, someone obsessed with human death and decay? These are the first words of “Nerve Endings”, whose chorus bears the shouted refrain “Can’t find my head!”, which might not be a metaphor coming from these guys.
“Nerve Endings” is a prime example of what Eagulls does best, which makes its placement as the album’s first track somewhat unfortunate, since things can only go downhill from there. But Eagulls are, if anything, consistent, so downhill isn’t too far or steep. On all ten tracks here, the opener’s trends continue: harrowing, aggressive guitars clash bluntly with percussion that sounds like it’s falling from the sky, and vocalist George Mitchell always delivers his disquieting lyrics with a British scowl full of bile and vitriol. The battle between drums and guitars in the chorus of “Yellow Eyes”, for example, resembles another Eagulls chorus, “Footsteps”; elsewhere, “Amber Veins” shoots out fearsome tones subtly drenched in wah to pave way for the track’s percussive stomp.
Eagulls’ sonic cohesiveness is an admirable quality, one that bands as young as they are often struggle with, but while it bolsters their sound, it also mildly hinders their debut as a whole. As the final few tracks approach, the life-sized guitars and bellowed vocals blur the lines between tracks. “Soulless Youth”, the album’s ultimate track, sounds great on its own, but feels tiring within the context of the album; if not for the brief breakdown on “Fester/Blister”, that song too might fly by without leaving a mark on listeners’ receptive ears. Luckily for this band, though, their lyrical consistency helps to shadow the persistent similarities across tracks. “Footsteps”, certainly an album highlight, boasts a screaming guitar riff during its chorus that might feel like just a whimper if not for the shouting of “you’re depleting my neck!” More anatomical imagery saves the day here, as it does on single “Possessed”, wherein the idea of demonic possession sounds like a physical burden rather than just a mental drain.
Although Eagulls falters here and there, it’s a pretty good starting point for a band that, despite having their own sound, isn’t reinventing the wheel. They’ve absolutely got the potential to make a riveting punk or shoegaze album one day, something as bleak and aggressive as Cloud Nothings’ recent masterpiece Attack on Memory. These birds have learned to fly, but have yet to travel long distance. Oddly enough, it’s their preoccupation with human physicality that sprouts their wings.