Eagulls gained attention for all the wrong reasons. After 2013’s South by Southwest Festival, the Leeds-based five-piece posted a handwritten expletive-filled criticism of the music industry on their website. It waved a prominent middle finger to “beach bands…wearing clothes that make you look like Micky Mouse Disney characters” who utilize “disgusting Afrobeat sounds mixed with comedic mock American singing,” and that gained attention because “[they] are girls or have girls in [their] band.”
It’s a sometimes humorous, always rambling and borderline sexist note that hints at a sour stateside debut. Whether or not they intended it as a mission statement, its pure irreverence turned heads towards five young men who channeled not only the sound but the spirit of punk icons the Sex Pistols and The Fall.
Bratty British rockers have been a dime a dozen since Oasis made it cool to be cruel again in the '90s, but Eagulls justify their hype. Nearly a year after their infamous treatise, they truly arrive with a debut full-length that features enough melodic hooks, youthful energy and lyrical bite to compel more than just a furrowed brow for their cheekiness.
When the band recently appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman,” singer George Mitchell donned a heavy overcoat. So perhaps it’s only fitting that the album sounds like it was recorded in a walk-in freezer: its reverb-heavy production, meaty Joy Division-esque bass guitar and Mitchell’s strep throat-reminiscent vocals leave no room for warmth – not to mention their icy public demeanor.
The lyrics within “Eagulls” conjure the more revolting moments of punk rock history detailed in must-reads like Legs McNeil’s “Please Kill Me.” The band focuses on disease (“Yellow Eyes,” “Fester / Blister”) and drug use (“Amber Veins,” “Hollow Visions”) throughout. Like many great punk albums, this is a record unafraid of squalor or danger, but demoralized enough to unabashedly air its insecurities, like on “Opaque” and single “Possessed.”
The clear standout here is opener “Nerve Endings,” which demands repeat listens as it features the best type of snottiness: the catchy kind. But “Eagulls” declines to peak early, spreading out memorable cuts like the neurotic “Possessed” and the atmospheric “Soulless Youth.” The album dulls its edge a bit on “Tough Luck,” which ironically sounds like the surf-rock that the band aimed to diss.
Eagulls don’t feign any interest in the pop-chart friendliness of their more immediate Brit-punk predecessors like The Libertines, and they’re better for it. Instead, they play like they’re trying to sap all the energy out of listeners just to prove they’re younger and tougher. The result, however, is not draining, but thrilling.