As torchbearers of the so-called post-punk revival, a trend-cum-indie-rock-subgenre now approaching 20 years of age, Eagulls typified what that label usually means on their 2014 self-titled debut: a young band that capitalizes on prominent basslines and sounds vaguely like Joy Division or the Cure. What redeemed their debut from nostalgic banality was its hefty, no-nonsense hooks, delivered in rapid succession. As its anagrammatic title suggests, their follow-up, Ullages, aims for what remains in the post-punk canon. There’s still scant impression of a category that once encompassed anything from harsh noise to shimmering synth-pop, and Eagulls still combine a Robert Smith-style vocals with brittle, chiming guitars. But their frame of reference has expanded outward to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, and anyone whose sound was ever filed under “jangle pop,” for a less shambolic, more melodic sound.
At the same time that they’ve sharpened their pop chops, Eagulls are also gloomier, swapping the punk-rock call-and-response style of their debut for a more reflective kind of musical angst. But Ullages’s best tracks are the most energetic: “Blume” and “Lemontrees” layer reverb on uptempo tunes straight from the early R.E.M. playbook, while “Velvet” achieves electro-pop sleekness with a steady 4/4 beat and spare, undulating guitar line. Much credit is due to drummer Henry Riddel, whose limber rhythms lend these bitter tales a thrashing, fleshy life, elevating the otherwise lackluster “Skipping” while amplifying the cathartic crescendo that builds through the one-two punch of “Heads or Tails” and the glorious “Euphoria.”
The slower songs are spottier. The doo-wop-inflected “Psalms” benefits from Riddel’s subtle sense of tension and release, but “My Life in Rewind” stretches George Mitchell’s yelp to its whiny breaking point, and the shoegaze closers, “Aisles” and “White Lie Lullabies,” fail to take much form. These lads are punks first and foremost, at their best when bratty and dynamic, but not so much when balladeering or soundscaping.
Still, the band’s investment in atmosphere ensures that the flimsier cuts fit seamlessly into the larger whole of a moody, hook-laden tribute to brooding masculinity and Martin Hannett. Indeed, if Ullages bears any major weakness, it’s that Eagulls, for all their precocious craftsmanship, remain tethered to already oft-cited influences. The five-piece, whose median age is 25, clearly have great taste, but so do a great many musicians with Spotify subscriptions and practice space. After the 10th spin or so of Ullages, a funny thing starts to happen: Alongside the anticipatory pleasure of waiting for the best licks, beats, and choruses is the growing sensation that you’ve heard those same licks, beats, and choruses a hundred times before.