When you’ve built a solid reputation based on your live performances, canning that gig energy and keeping it palatable for the duration of a debut album has been the stumbling block of many a band. It can end up a rather dull template of songs, beloved in the live arena but being sanitised to the point of disinterest once something begotten of raw energy is introduced to metronomes and overdubs. However, the first long player by Glasgow’s Gallus avoids any such pitfalls.
Named after the Dumbarton Road hostelry in which they were theoretically formed, their chosen monicker is both snappy and apt. Formed by cousins Eamon Ewins (guitar) and Paul Ewins (drums) and their schoolfriend Barry Dolan (vocals), they also feature Gianluca Bernacchi (guitar), who some observers will recognise from The Vegan Leather. Six of the twelve tracks here have been released as singles in the past two years, and the latest of these is opener ‘Moderation’. The song’s frenetic pace and energy peaks when the main chorus guitar hook screams as background to Dolan’s snarly musings on his inability to gamble in moderation.
The language is all clothed in the band’s signature dark humour, where simple lines like ‘I love it when I look in the mirror/all I see is a winner’ have a surprisingly grim undertone, given the subject matter. ‘Fruitflies’ is a bit of a stomper, with a slightly anthemic singalong chorus and a Pixies-like riff that is likely to take the roof off a building near you soon.
A clear influence throughout the record is Fontaines D.C., and ‘Eye to Eye’ is the song where this is the most obvious. Starting with a tom-thumping drumbeat, the lyrics reflect the universal struggle of having to do stuff you hate in order to pull in a pitiful wage.
‘Basic Instinct’ isn’t one of the six singles but arguably should’ve been. I unashamedly love the interplay between the two trebly guitars dancing and filling around the vocal melody. There aren’t a million different guitar tones floating about this record (and that is a good thing) but ‘Missiles’ does include a very on-chorus pedal at times. Dynamically, there feels like some sort of shift – be that the start/stop pre-chorus or small pauses before all the instruments come crashing in together – every few seconds.
As far as poignant single lines go, ‘the sun never sets on a world on fire’ is a cracker. Someone somewhere will be getting this tattooed on one of their more visible bits one day.
The entire record could be clumsily categorised with the term ‘coming of age’ (I mean, check the title) but ‘What Do I Know’ probably suits that term more than the rest of the record. It couldn’t have been conceived, written, or recorded by anyone who wasn’t in their early twenties. While it’s difficult to review this record without constantly repeating stuff about energy and vigour, ‘Marmalade’ is so relentless that it’s downright panic-inducing. At the end of each verse there’s a reflective, self-referencing line, and Dolan’s increasingly strained roaring comes with its own catharsis.
‘Going Numb’ is the shortest song on the album, built around a head-shoogling verse riff and a chorus that soars way more than it has any right to. In the song’s final minute, there are some scooped mids in the overdriven guitars which are an unexpected wee thrill.
Yet another previous single, ‘Are You Finished’ focuses on the ubiquitous themes of self-conscious reflection and relative inadequacy. ‘Mr Nothing’ might be my favourite song on the album. It clocks in a slightly more plodding BPM than some of the more frantic songs, and the target of its ire appears to be some sort of pub bore intent on being your friend, or at least, intent on making sure you hear his unwelcome opinions.
They might not appreciate the comparison, but Gallus occasionally remind me of Art Brut. Never more so than on ‘Penicillin’, where a simple, almost traditional indie-rock chord progression seems to bounce back and forth upon itself. Closer ‘Sickness and Health’ (sadly, not a cover of the Chas & Dave standard), includes the closest thing to a conventional guitar solo on the record, but it’s tastefully short and doesn’t sit at the front of the mix.
So is this debut destined to be an announcement of arrival, only for the band to spend the next few years growing and developing entirely new musical genres? Probably not. Is it a firework-like dazzle of blinding brilliance that will fizz magically before the band disappear from view? I really hope not. One thing the record does achieve is that it bottles the band’s live energy so neatly that repeated listens will have you checking your floor for sticky beer residue.