Family-related bands are inherently risky propositions. A few weeks ago, we looked at how tensions between the Gallagher brothers ultimately led to the collapse of oasis and the resulting creation of Beady Eye. Other sibling-driven outfits have likewise met with turmoil – Credence Clearwater Revival, The Kinks, The Neville Brothers – in many ways fueled by familial conflict. But, at the same time, the same internal friction that can often lead to inflamed emotions can also fuel creative synergy, when folks who have longstanding familiarity and more substantial bonds are in-tune with each others' habits, thought patterns and artistic directions to produce a more unified vision for their material. That spirit drives the work one of today's most popular rock groups – Kings of Leon, but they're not the subject of today's review. Instead, its the tandem of four siblings and one cousin from the DuPree family in Tyler, Tex. that form Eisley and deliver their third full-length release, The Valley, out on March 1 on Equal Vision Records.
The 11-track effort combines two parts of the great, swirling anthems of groups like Metric and Great Northern to one part smooth, R&B-flavored piano rock of artists like Valery Gore and April Smith. The group's genesis dates to 1997, when teenage guitarist sisters Chauntelle and Sherri DuPree would work-up a mix of covers and originals. Younger sister Stacy – today the band's primary vocalist, as well as alternating between keyboards and guitar – was only allowed to participate after she contributed her own original material, while brother Weston – sandwiched between the older sisters and Stacy – was drafted to man the drum kit. Cousin Garron was ultimately added to hold down bass duties.
Following a series of EPs between 2003 and 2009, and full-length records in 2005 (Room Noises) and 2007 (Combinations), The Valley reflects the most full realization of the family band's sonic and lyrical approach. Largely tracing the destruction of a relationship, the collection is infused with imagery suggesting medical trauma: we hear of ambulances, oxygen masks and multiple references to blood or bleeding. It's obvious the breakup left the material's subject reeling. This much is clear from the leadoff title track and it's opening lines, "real heart-breaker come and take me to the real heart ache that everyone's talking 'bout." It's a charging mix of strings, drums and guitars while Stacy DuPree's vocals glide above, much in the same manner employed by Metric's Emily Haines and the Great Northern's Rachel Stolte.
Less soaring and more hard-edged its the following "Smarter" – a classic account of post-breakup avarice – with guitarists Chauntelle and Sherri chugging through Kirk Hamlet-style riffs while Stacy's piano lines and surefire soprano brighten the lyrics' seething spite. Stacy – like Haines and Stolte before her – manages to clench the beauty of her upper-register range without loosing any of its power, a feat that is often unachieved by many sopranos as they negotiate octaves (think Sarah McLaughlin) and is a perfect match for the group's muscular instrumental tone.
Conversely, "Watch It Die" is centrally driven by Stacy's bouncy piano and more reflective of the Valery Gore / Regina Spektor / April Smith approach. Then again, it's followed-up by the bluesy "Sad," a near onion paper tracing of Metric's "Gimme Sympathy." The number's pace seems to land squarely in the band's wheelhouse and strikes a nice balance between the heavier fare of "The Valley" and "Smarter" and the less aggressive "Watch It Die" or "Mr. Moon" later on. Also in that latter vein is "Oxygen Mask," easily the album's poppiest track, with its layered strings, rare acoustic guitars and melodic chorus.
And although "Better Love" starts off like a mistaken Blink-182 cut, it rounds into a rather convincing rock song. It's meaty chorus is bolstered by Rock 101-lyrics like, "Because I've finally found out / you're on my side / with a bullet for the bad guys," and would certainly rank as the choice for a one-off sample of the group's sound.
On the other hand, "I Wish" is a bit too watered-down in relation to the record's larger vision, with too many "oooh, aaah, ooohs" and a ballady self-importance. Later on, "Kind" again tacks towards the softer, piano model, but closer "Ambulance" – although has more fortitude even though it's slower and more composed, acting as a requiem for the deconstructed romance chronicled throughout the proceedings.
Come for: "The Valley"
Stay for: "Sad"
You'll be surprised by: "Better Love"