Leeds scowlers' vital debut tackles drugs, depression and deformity
Former Factory Records head Tony Wilson knew better than most how to explain Joy Division’s genius in one nifty sound-bite. “Punk enabled you to say ‘fuck you’, but it couldn’t go any further,” he once said. “It was a single, venomous, two-syllable phrase of anger. Sooner or later, someone was going to want to say more; someone was going to want to say, ‘I’m fucked.’”
And fucked is exactly what Eagulls are: a group of pissed-off 20-somethings living in Leeds, stuck in the soulless drudgery of a dead-end nine-to-five existence and loathing every second of it. They’re not shy of taking on anyone who raises their hackles, as proved last year in a withering open letter published on their blog which scorned other bands for “sucking each others’ dicks and rubbing the press’ clit”.
But, beneath all the irascible itchiness and crude put-downs, they’ve got that same gift that turned Wilson on to Ian Curtis and co some 35-odd years ago: a knack for finding germs of unpleasant truths and uncomfortable flashes of real-life beneath the snark. Witness last year’s ‘Nerve Endings’ – one of 2013’s finest singles – in which frontman George Mitchell yelped like he was huffing on some fear-inducing gas while mid-panic attack, detailing his struggles with stress and anxiety over relentlessly coarse, catchy post-punk. “The skin-peeling, embarrassing feelings/Growing worse each day and night” he wigged-out, a poster-boy of bug-eyed terror.
Their self-titled debut follows the same restless, fidgety blueprint, and comes off like some wounded beast that’s more scared of itself than you are. Both ‘Hollow Visions’ and ‘Yellow Eyes’ are bitter, hardcore-meets-post-punk hybrids of nervous tension, powered by chugging, taut-as-wire riffs and bleak misanthropy. ‘Tough Luck’ starts out deceptively jangly, like a lager-swilling, rough and tumble version of The Smiths, before taking a treacherous U-turn via Mitchell’s tale of birth defects caused by the drug Thalidomide. “You wanted hands, you wanted feet” he barks, before spitting out “Touch wood, tough luck” – a chorus, you realise, that’s less about a light-hearted gamble and more about chilling consequences.
Similarly ferocious is the poppy, helter-skelter thrash of ‘Opaque’, which details how a work colleague of Mitchell and guitarist Mark Thompson was arrested for sexually abusing girls, only to later evade charges, while the lurching ‘Amber Veins’ is full of seething contempt for some neighbourhood heroin addicts so desperate for a fix they’re pawning all their worldly possessions. It’s as nasty a little thing as it sounds, yet, for all the ugliness that spills out of Eagulls, they’re never anything less than vital; these are anthems for a doomed youth determined to kick against the pricks rather than mope forlornly and fruitlessly. “And forever you’re lost/And forever you’ll rot” sings Mitchell on the throbbing, messy din of closer ‘Soulless Youth’. Being fucked has seldom sounded so life-affirming.