Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Eisley: The Valley

I've liked Eisley for a long time, and although I recently got to see them in concert, it's been until now that I've had the fanboy pleasure of hearing one of their albums on its release date.  (Protip: living on the west coast means you can technically download the album at 9 pm the day before it releases.)

Where Eisley's earlier albums were built on happy sentimentality and surreal fantasy, The Valley has a much darker tone.  Eisley has collectively grown up a lot, producing an album that's more despondently mature than anything they've ever released.  And it's not yet clear if that's a good thing.

It's clear that the songs on The Valley are coming from an entirely different place than those on Room Noises or Combinations.  Bad things have happened to the lovely ladies of Eisley over the past four years, including a broken engagement and a divorce, and that provides most of the somber creativity on this album.  It's a surprisingly visceral set for a band that built its freshman and sophomore albums on songs about mermaid-entwined shrubbery and alien body-snatchers.  There's something to be said for how raw and personal a lot of the material is.

But on the other hand, it's not the Eisley that we know and love.  We like Eisley because they're the band that plays at our local coffeehouse, singing songs about being lost at sea with people they love, wearing floral-print dresses and carrying a refreshing air of non-pretentiousness.  Hearing them sing about their very real tribulations seems somehow wrong.  Maybe it's not a bad wrong.  Maybe it's just a wrong that's going to take some getting used to.

To help ease the transition, Eisley includes plenty of songs that sounds stylistically (if not thematically) at home on the earlier albums.  "Watch it Die" and "Oxygen Mask" both evoke Combinations' more ethereal songs ("I Could Be There For You," "Come Clean") with falsetto-Stacy vocals and string/piano backing.  And "Kind" and "Mr. Moon" owe a lot to the aesthetic of Room Noises, with guitar syncopation and major/minor interplay just toeing the line of whimsical.

There are a lot of strong tracks on The Valley, but this is a sort of album where no two listeners are going to prefer the same set of songs.  Early standouts include "Sad," a Sherri vocal tour de force (every Eisley album has to have at least one, see also "Marvelous Things" and "Invasion") and "Ambulance," a strongly piano-driven reflection on, yes, a broken relationship that's better heard as a single track than as a closer to an album filled with yet more reflections on broken relationships.

The Valley represents an intriguing new stylistic direction for Eisley, but what's really going to be interesting is the direction that their future albums take, once these wounds have had a few years to heal.  If Eisley can retain some of the darkly emotional energy of The Valley and integrate it with some of the playful fantasy of their earlier albums, then there are very bright things in Eisley's future.

Currently listening: "Miracle," Paramore

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