HM News Movie Reviews
Label: Equal Vision Records
Time: 11 tracks / 38:22 minutes
Although Laughing City is the name of Eisley's online community, the Texas-based band's new project, The Valley, is no laughing matter. As cliché as this might sound, The Valley is not only Eisley's most mature work to date but it's a passionate, mature, artistic rock/pop statement that just might be the defining moment for this quintet that had been known as much for its quirky surrealist leanings as for the fact that this was pretty much a sister (and one brother) act. The first part made them an acquired taste – the second might have minimized their potential audience based on a perceived lack-of-cool.
It seems that everything has changed. Well, a lot of things, anyway. The details are not the issue here, but let's say that life has recently put members of the band through some heavy-duty changes, and what often happens with artists has happened: pain gives way to art. Without question, there's much pain on this project but there's also hope and a sense of optimistic romanticism – a quality that always seemed to linger just under the surface of even the earliest Eisley songs. The Valley gives us Eisley in a more aggressive, passionate, world-wise form than anyone could have expected, musically, lyrically, and in terms of the performance. Dorothy – we're not in Trolleywood anymore....
The title track begins startlingly, with in-your-face staccato strings and a totally up-front vocal: “Real heartbreaker come and take me / to the real heartache that everyone's talkin' 'bout / You see me then you don't - but get it right, I don't believe in magic.” Hmmm. Quite a change from the “Marvelous Things” days: “I awoke the dawn / Saw horses growing out the lawn Ah, ah, ah / I glimpsed a bat with butterfly wings / Oh, what marvelous things.” In a mirror-image to John Lennon's turn-around from a string of 'I don't believe' statements from “God,” to the 'I believe, yes – I believe' chorus of “Number 9 Dream,” it seems as if Eisley has gone from an embrace of idealism to an encounter with some harsh life-realities – the driving force of the bass, the attack of the guitar and the thunder of the drums as the whole band kicks in seems to say, 'we're back and we're here to play, so look out.' This is a Texas-sized sound from Eisley!
The sibling voices still fit hand-in-glove with one another, still featuring unusual, sometimes haunting harmony but now featuring a more lead vocal plus back-up format. Where one might've once compared the vocal style to Lee Nash (Sixpence None the Richer), perhaps it's the maturity of the subject matter that now brings a slightly less-domesticated Sara Groves to mind.
The Valley showcases a more powerful, emotional Eisley: sometimes sounding painfully sad (“Sad,” “Please”), sometimes a little angry (“Smarter”), always reflective. Stacy (keyboards and vocals), Sherri (guitars and vocals), and Chantelle (guitars and vocals) have added a degree of grit to their repertoire while Garron's bass is solidly played and mixed richly into the sound and Weston's drumming, powerful and effective through the whole album, really displays some explosive breaks on “Better Love” and “Ambulance.” Is Mute Math's Darren King's influence taking effect? Jacqueline Morant (violin), Susan Dubois (violin), Thomas Demer (viola), Deborah Brooks (cello) provide earthy, intimate strings on several tracks, with Jeremy Larson lending a hand in the string department on “Kind,” a piano and bass centered ballad that comes at exactly the right time and in the right place on this intense album.
Musically the most radio-friendly track, the gloomily titled “Watch it Die” isn't exactly the feel-good song of the year with lyrics like 'my love for you has died tonight,' but it's an infectious tune nonetheless. Every song on The Valley is a great listen, with the unmistakable Eisely sound fully realized and stronger than ever before. Kudos to producers Gary Leach and Austin Deptula for keeping the sound fat and deep, for not compromising the integrity of these five artists from Texas who have gone walking through some emotional valleys and come out stronger on the other side.
The Valley is a strong album, a defining statement, and simply a great pop album with plenty of edge, great playing, passionate delivery and emotional depth. Eisley's latest effort is without question the strongest work they've ever done and should delight long-time fans and make many new ones.