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Monday, August 13, 2007

Eisley: "Combinations"

The first time I heard of Eisley was at least four or five years ago. I remember watching MTV and seeing them featured on "You Hear It First." At that time, this underdog band from Texas had little to show for their efforts except for an EP and a tour with Coldplay. Still, the band aroused my interest, and I kept them on my radar. It wasn't until I saw them live in January of 2005 that I finally fell in love with them. Their debut full-length album was released just a few weeks later, and I can remember rushing into my local store minutes after they opened so that I could get a copy. "Room Noises" was a marvelous and wonderful album. It is one of the few albums that you can listen and just drift off to. The DuPree sisters were able to craft stories and imagery that was simply beyond their years, and the music they created was absolutely dreamy. It's been about 2 1/2 years since then and my hopes have been high for another brilliant album for some time. The question is, "Does 'Combinations' live up to it's predecessor?"

When you hit "Play" on your CD player, it's immediately clear that what you are about to hear will sound very little like "Room Noises." The lead-off track, "Many Funerals" is a very straight-forward rock track, completely unlike anything we've heard from the band before. In the chorus, the sisters sing "Break, break down!" over an aggressive guitar and bass. Is this really Eisley? Indeed, it is. While the song isn't bad by any means, it can definitely catch you off guard if you're not anticipating it.

Get used to it though. Eisley takes a much more traditional approach to making music this time around. Their lyrics are much more straightforward now, often singing about things that are relatable rather than fairies and forests. At the same time though, their sound is more polished and they sound more cohesive as a band than they ever have before. Their hooks are stronger, and they play their instruments with confidence. It's a trade off, because even though they sound much more talented on "Combinations," they don't sound as dreamy and innocent as they once did.

The first single, "Invasion," is really the closest that the DuPrees come to capturing the wanderlust of "Room Noises." Here, the sisters sing "Ooh, something's not right" in a wavy vocal style that sounds very familiar, very comforting. The next song, "Taking Control" is my personal favorite on the album. It sounds like nothing that they've done before, but the chorus is unbelievably infectious. The pianos, guitars, drums, and vocals blend perfectly to form a truly memorable pop rock song.

The band slows down a bit on "Go Away," the album's first real ballad, and a showcase for the group's unparalleled ability to harmonize with one another. When they sing "Go away, go away and leave me on my own" it moved me in a way that few songs have been able to this year, and as such, it stands out on the album. "Come Clean" is another ballad, but this time the vocals are not as much of a group effort. At the same time, however, the band shows off their talent on their respective instruments. Gentle guitar plucks and the frantic strums of a mandolin form the backdrop for this very soothing song. The song ends with the band singing "Come clean all around me" together before fading into the sounds of children playing. Beautiful.

"Ten Cent Blues" takes a very real look at relationships and the feeling of not being able to compete with someone to whom you feel you are physically inferior to. She sings about how the other girl is cheesy, and has no wit before conceding "I'm sorry I don't have her face, and I'm probably gonna lose this race." It's a far cry from Eisley of old, but it's nice to hear the earnest words of an artist every now and then rather than just fictional tales. "Combinations" wraps up with the bizarre, yet impressive "A Sight To Behold," the cutesy, yet dull title track, and the undeniably gorgeous and lullabye-like "If You're Wondering." It's a brief, but welcomed trip back to the fantasy world of earlier Eisley albums.

When it's all said and done, I can't help but have mixed feelings about "Combinations." It's obvious to me that the DuPrees have grown substantially as musicians since I first saw them play live several years ago, and their music has become more solid because of it. However, I miss the fantasy and wanderlust of "Room Noises" and their earlier EPs very much. I suppose it's just something I'll have to get over, because at it's core "Combinations" is a very impressive album. It's a work that can stand on it's own, apart from their past recordings. It may not be as immediately endearing, but Eisley has not let us down.

Recommended for fans of Eisley, Sixpence None the Richer, and anyone who wants to hear the best Tyler, Texas has to offer.

Key Tracks:
1. "Many Funerals"
2. "Taking Control"
3. "Go Away"
4. "Come Clean"
5. "If You're Wondering"

7 out of 10 Stars

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