On March 1, Texas-based quintet Eisley, who performed at Santa Barbara’s Velvet Jones last November, released their highly-anticipated album The Valley. Eisley, a group that has prided itself in producing music in a more-or-less DIY manner, broke with Warner Bros. Records after feeling creatively constricted, delaying the release of the album.
The Valley, like Eisley’s previous endeavors, remains driven by vocals and melodies, though this time with a darker twist — out with the whimsy and in with the angst-y. This twist comes as no surprise, as the DuPree sisters have all undergone their share of heartbreak: notably Sherri (rhythm guitar, vocals, lyrics), who went through a divorce before her recent remarriage. Despite its light musical tone, the album’s troubling themes of infidelity, heartbreak and renewal bleed through catchy melodies.
“Smarter,” a single that was released on the Fire Kite EP last October, is the strongest and angriest of the bunch. It also has a nice touch of tongue-in-cheek, as Sherri sings: “If I had one wish it’d be that we had danced more at that apocryphal wedding.” Its sound, gritty and at times feisty, is also the most blatantly different from Eisley’s usual keyboard-based tunes. Co-written by Sherri’s now-husband, Max Bemis of “Say Anything,” the track sounds like a pretty punk song, infused with heavy guitars laced with soaring harmonies and layered vocals.
Another gem is “Watch It Die,” partly because we get to hear Chauntelle DuPree (lead guitar), whose vocals have languished, unused, finally sing. Although she’s only featured during the chorus, her voice adds a lovely dash of change. As for the song itself, it is a painful love song (“My love for you was faulty / Now angels watch it die /My love for you has died tonight”) enveloped in a lively piano melody.
Balancing the overwhelming heartbreak is the track “Better Love,” which echoes the renewal that new love brings: “I’ve finally found out / you’re on my side / and if you’re my guide I’m your guide.” It’s a beautiful mesh of sorrow and optimism manifested through vibrant pianos, aggressive guitars and a toe-tapping rhythm.
One of the loveliest and saddest songs is “Mr. Moon,” which narrates the discovery of a lover’s betrayal. The title itself evokes Eisley’s previous infatuation with all things whimsical, but the song is anything but. Sherri’s soft voice grows into a poignant plead, her sisters adding symbolic vocal support, their interlocking voices pushing through the dark melody.
The album ends on an uncertain note with the track “Ambulance,” a song Stacy DuPree (vocals, keyboard) wrote in response to Sherri’s divorce. It begins with Stacy’s warm, mature voice backed by a quiet piano, evoking a lost love: “I built a monument / for the love we used to know.” A compelling sense of brokenness with the hope of redemption comes through as the track progresses. The track also has a gorgeous addition of strings, creating a sweet fullness unknown to previous Eisley songs.
The Valley is a triumph — showcasing Eisley’s prowess in constructing beautiful harmonies as well as their effortless ability in creating the catchiest of melodies as if in their sleep. It’s dark, mournful mood works in producing a realism that was only alluded to in Eisley’s previous albums. While at times the album sounds like the same songs on repeat, it’s an enjoyable listen.
Eisley, through pain, struggle, and new love has created a musically strong album with a tougher and more mature sound, breaking all expectations.