Eagulls' self-titled debut earned acclaim for the way the band blurred its punk edges with shoegaze-sized walls of sound. This fondness for atmosphere was the only hint of the radical makeover they undertake on Ullages, an anagram of the band's name that doubles as an alter ego: if Eagulls was indebted to the gritty side of post-punk, then this is the glossy, but just as gloomy, flip side.
Though Eagulls were specifically inspired by the Cocteau Twins while making the album, Ullages' sonic cathedrals -- which were recorded in a converted Catholic church, natch -- evoke a host of dourly beautiful bands. "Blume"'s psychedelic leanings recall the Horrors and Echo & the Bunnymen before them, while the album's ringing riffs and George Mitchell's impassioned delivery often suggest early Simple Minds. However, Ullages' most obvious reference point is Pornography-era Cure. Stripped of Eagulls' fury, Mitchell's yelp sounds more like Robert Smith than ever, especially when it's surrounded by crystalline synths and glassy guitars on songs like "Heads or Tails."
At times, Ullages teeters between homage and caricature: "My Life in Rewind" is one of the most captivating examples of how Eagulls turned their debut's explosive power inward, yet its swooning riffs and lyrics like "painting with tears in my eyes" give a directness to the Cure's poetic angst that, for better and worse, feels adolescent. There's no denying Ullages is well crafted; the woozy interlude "Harpstrings" and glistening tracks like "Velvet" and "White Lie Lullabies" make the most of the album's darkly glamorous palette, but there are fewer peaks and valleys within its songs than on Eagulls.
Whether this means the album is more consistent or more monotonous than what came before may depend on the listener's fondness for somber post-punk moods, but Ullages often feels most convincing when the band injects a little of its old energy into its new approach. "Lemontrees" adds some bite to the album's sparkle, while "Euphoria"'s melodrama is matched by its powerful drums and "Skipping" harnesses some of Eagulls' anger. Even if it isn't as dynamic as its predecessor, at the very least Ullages reflects that Eagulls can do more than rant.