Eisley, ‘Currents’ – Album Review
Texas quintet and all-around family affair Eisley have spent much of their career exploring their brand of dreamy indie-pop and figuring out how to push it in new directions. With each release since their 2005 debut, ‘Room Noises,’ the four siblings and cousin have attempted to find a balance between their angelic vocals, atmospheric instrumentation and fantastical songwriting. At their best, the band lands somewhere between charming and haunting. At their worst, the scale tips toward the former, ultimately creating songs that are overly sweet and overwrought and generally miss the mark. On their fourth album, ‘Currents,’ the band has its share of both hits and misses.
'Currents' finds Eisley on a new label, a change-up that has allowed for more musical freedom. Unfortunately, the album plays out like a grab bag in both sound and songwriting. Vocalists Sherri Dupree-Bemis and Stacy King act as musical anchors, consistently delivering soaring vocals that make the whole Eisley effect work. But oftentimes, the songwriting is more cloying than it is profound, and the instrumentation fights against the group’s signature melodies.
‘Drink the Water,’ ‘Millstone’ and ‘Shelter’ are moments where the band gets it right. ‘Drink the Water’ clings to the band’s fragile and ethereal sound, while the lyrics descend into darker territory, helping achieve the balance they need.
‘Millstone’ and ‘Shelter’ maintain the element of sweetness but take it to more mature places. In ‘Millstone,’ Christie DuPree of Merriment — yes, another sibling — croons, “I can’t find the secret to survive, to grow old safe and sound.” The song captures the adolescent fear of growing up, which is a common theme in the band’s catalog. Here, luckily, the band tackles the topic without relying on the kind of heads-in-the-clouds imagery that has frequently become a crutch -- and that, after four albums, has lost its impact.
On songs like ‘Real World,’ ‘Wicked Child’ and ‘The Night Comes,’ Eisley run into some trouble. The fantastical and child-like imagery is where the band feels most at home, but in these instances, the images are sugary and naïve, not nostalgic and insightful. ‘Wicked Child’ goes from drawing on Greek mythology one minute to referencing ‘Alice in Wonderland' the next. It’s a hodgepodge, and while the band is certainly testing their newfound independence (even recording in their own home studio), they would do well to rein it in and edit.
In the end, ‘Currents’ feels like more of a lateral move than a progression from their previous record, 2011’s ‘The Valley.’ But when they get it right, they really get it right. When they're able to contrast their fragile and airy sensibilities with darker explorations, they succeed brilliantly, and in those terms, ‘Currents’ is almost there.