Review: Eisley – The Valley (2011)

The interesting thing about the band Eisley is the fact that casual Eisley fans are few and far between. Either you’re completely ambivalent about the Texas five piece or you’re completely obsessed so the fact that I’ve always liked Eisley well enough but never really loved the group makes me something of an anomaly in Eisley’s fan base. The truth of the matter is that I’ve always wanted to love Eisley but I’ve always felt that they suffered from overproduction and major label meddling, with Warner Brothers trying to fit them into a pop mold that the indie Christian family band just couldn’t be crammed into. The Dupree siblings have always made darkly fantastical music, since their inception nearly fifteen years ago when keyboardist Stacy was just eight. The band wore that youthful optimism on their sleeves, singing songs about Christmas villages (“Mr. Pine”) and body snatching aliens ala Ray Bradbury (“Invasion”), all of which lead to their earlier albums sounding like something of a soundtrack to an indie rock version of The Chronicles of  Narnia. Just like everyone, however, Eisley had to grow up some time and their latest LP, The Valley is a testament to that.

The Valley shows maturation so extreme that it’s hard to believe that the same girls that sang of “bats with butterfly wings” are now insisting “I don’t believe in magic.” You’ll find no fantastical creatures or fairy stories here. Instead, you’ll only find the harsh truths of the realities of growing up and while the whimsy of Eisley’s lyrics may have drastically waned, their lush melodies and crystal clear harmonies remain not only intact but better than ever. The Valley is a disc after my own heart because it’s an ode to lost love, a documentation of the hardships of the heart that the Dupree sisters went through while making this album. It’s almost impossible to hear anything about Eisley without knowing at least a little bit about their personal lives. You see, as serial monogamists, the Duprees have been romanced by some of pop punk’s finest and, well, most dreadful. Guitarist Chauntelle was left by fiancee Adam “Taking Back Sunday” Lazara only months before their wedding after he knocked up a waitress in the Dupree’s hometown. Guitarist and co-vocalist Sherri was cheated on by husband Chad “New Found Glory” Gilbert before he filed for divorce so he could shack up with the Paramore kiddo. Thankfully, keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist Stacy seems to have steered clear of the less desirable aspects of dating musicians and the Duprees seem to have finally found their happy endings as all three of the sisters are married; Chauntelle to guitar maker Todd D’Agostino, Sherri to Say Anything’s Max Bemis, and Stacy to Mute Math’s Darren King. The Valley, however, is not a token of the happiness the Duprees found. The Valley has been a finished album for nearly two years now, tangled up in label red tape before finding a home on Equal Vision and finally seeing a release earlier in March. That means that this album was composed smack dab in the middle of the collective heartache that the Duprees went through. And with that turmoil, Eisley has made their most cohesive and adult album to date.

As with their last albums, The Valley finds Sherri and Stacy Dupree splitting songwriting and vocal duties almost equally, however it’s Sherri’s story that’s told throughout the majority of The Valley with “Mr. Moon” and closing track “Ambulance” both documenting the exact moment Sherri was left by her husband in heart wrenching detail. Elsewhere, Eisley’s middle Dupree daughter prays for a “better love”, tells her husband’s new girlfriend that she’ll be “left alone, broken, bleeding from the heart when he doesn’t come home.” Stand out track “Smarter” acts as a beautiful monument to women scorned, as Sherri lambastes her ex husband, telling him that she’s smarter than he thinks while listing her few regrets about their brief love got awry (“I wish we’d have danced more at that apocryphal wedding”).

Elsewhere, the album tends to fall flat, with “Watch It Die” and “I Wish” verging on adult contemporary. Thankfully, the breathtaking tracks outnumber the lackluster ones and the album’s missteps are not only forgettable but forgivable as well.  Both Stacy and Sherri’s voices are the strongest and clearest they’ve ever been, as evident from the opening notes of The Valley‘s title track and album opener. As Stacy shows her impeccable range, singing “I don’t see everything as right or wrong”, it’s hard not to get chills. That’s a trend that continues on most of Stacy’s songs, particularly “Oxygen Mask” and the swelling heartbreak of the album’s last song, “Ambulance”. The fact that the album begins and ends with two of the strongest songs Stacy has ever sang makes for a nice bookend-like quality to The Valley.

It’s in the middle where things begin to falter a bit. Given the intense subject matter at hand, it feels as if The Valley‘s tracks could have been ordered in such a way to capitalize upon this fact and to tell a better story.  After all, if anyone has the right to tell a tale about love lost, it’s the Duprees.

Rating: 7.0/10

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