It’s still our favourite Yorkshire joke – the one with the punch line: “Yes – but we grow them to fit our mouths!”. It’s ironic humour being wrenched from the stereotypical bumpkin mocking the metropolitan putz via their granite-dry powers of observation.
This paradox, as old as the hare and tortoise is, could also easily be applied as a metaphor for a cadre of the region’s bands, most sprung from Leeds’ mythical DIY scene and who are flowering on their own mostly hype-free terms, independent in both word and outlook. Step forward then Autobahn, or Sheffield’s Sievehead, but the real scene blueprint lies with Eagulls, the quintet whose eponymous début album, released in 2014, channelled both Public Image Ltd. and a host of raincoat miserabilists, bleak experiences and romance buried deep in uncaring structures of eyeless concrete.
There were fairly obviously few pathways to retreat from such fundamentalist doctrines without un-flashing your pan: rather than shirk the slings and arrows of outraged fandom, George Mitchell and co. (although this is resolutely not a frontman band) have accordingly framed ‘Ullages‘ not as a break out record, but perhaps as a break free one.
Mitchell himself has spoken of changing perspectives, a decanting of his romantic side into songs which are less fevered. Perhaps this has lent him also a more laissez-faire countenance, his request on opener ‘Heads Or Tails‘ to, “Take a stab in the dark tonight” more about being a willingly ambivalent hostage to fortune than about the threat which in darker times might’ve been of well..being stabbed in the dark. Tonight.
Musically, behind these new doors is progression via melody, ambitious new dimensions as on the reverb drenched guitar filigrees of ‘Blume‘, ‘Aisles‘ moody waltz and ‘Skipping‘s primeval dancefloor throb. This is certainly not music that sounds like it comes from a creative process which has previously been described as, “Banging each other’s heads against the wall”, the wooze-laden instrumental ‘Harpstrings‘ not the outcome of a band at war with itself as in the past it occasionally sounded like.
So, what happens when conflict is replaced by caring? In ‘Ullages’ case, quite a lot; ‘Euphoria‘ seems like a place Eagulls would never reach, but lyrics that mention dreams and escape from the self are still offering the listener a toehold in the band’s previously furious existence. Gone too is the relentless, almost asphyxiating pace of before; ‘Velvet‘s pauses and comparative gentleness allowing some much needed time for everyone to relate to their surroundings, whilst on ‘Psalms‘ Mitchell sounds lackadaisical, perversely almost carefree.
With time enough on their hands to not care much for all the easy allusions their music might substantively attract (The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Chameleons et al), there’s clearly sufficient room for them to become more studied, more fragile, but stronger for it. ‘Ullages’ finest moment is that, the blindingly carefree, wildly dissolute ‘My Life In Rewind‘, five and a half minutes of gloriously overwrought post punk pop, it’s a window thrown up onto accessibility street, more Morrissey than Curtis and a shimmering kiss goodbye to the chattels of looking any other way than straight ahead.
It all sounds far too nuanced of course for the parody ready image of your typical stoic and change averse Yorkshireman, but times change.
A few more albums like this and the county will have to start growing bigger vegetables.