Four years after the release of their sophomore record, indie pop vets Eisley are ready to take another stab at the scene with their Equal Vision debut The Valley. The Texas five-piece showcases some of their strongest material yet in their latest record, marrying cotton candy choruses to gritty indie rock, while adding some ambitious orchestra sequences for good measure. Guitarist and vocalist Sherri DuPree truly stands out on The Valley, establishing herself as a great songwriter. Drawing from personal experiences, including her failed marriage to Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory, DuPree contributes some of Eisley’s most honest songs to date.
The album begins with “The Valley”, written by keyboardist/vocalist Stacy DuPree. A very natural fusion of jaunty string accompaniment and indie pop mentality, “The Valley” contains some of the album’s strongest Stacy-penned lyrics. “Smarter”, the second track on The Valley, sounds like the musical lovechild of Sherri and husband Max Bemis of Say Anything. Utilizing the poppy choruses that are familiar territory to Eisley, “Smarter” also utilizes biting lyricism and even over-driven guitars, the latter presumably done by Mr. Bemis in decidedly Say Anything-esque style (he is credited in the liner notes for contributing additional guitars). “Smarter” sets a precedent that runs continuously throughout The Valley – that Sherri is the better songwriter.
As if to reinforce my previous sentiment, the next track, Stacy’s “Watch It Die” is admittedly catchy, but iffy in the lyric department – lines like “Fabulous teeth and a smile that will melt your heart/Now come on don’t you know how to play” are generic at best. Next up, “Sad” is instrumentally very straightforward, but there’s something to be said about a good, simple indie rock song. “Oxygen Mask” keeps up with ying-yang back-and-forth between Stacy and Sherri. Bubblegum but memorable, “Oxygen Mask” does prove to be one of the better Stacy-penned songs on The Valley. A bouncy piano line ushers in the orchestral le motif again, while the latter part of the song picks up with a driving guitar line and spacey harmonies.
One of the few songs on the album that is driving all the way through, “Better Love” (written by Sherri, of course) seems to incorporate elements of two previously separate styles on The Valley – a heavy pop influence and indie rock sensibilities. “Better Love” integrates Sherri’s signature edge while being catchier than just about any other song on the album – a definite candidate for best song.
When I skimmed the liner notes to get the writing credit for the next track on The Valley, I was excited to learn that Sherri and Stacy collaborated on it. Unfortunately, “I Wish” doesn’t make use of stylistic duality like “Better Love” does. “I Wish” isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t take advantage of the different perspectives that shape it, and consequently it doesn’t stand out very much. Next is “Kind”, a cute piano-driven track with dreadfully trite lyrics – “I’ll cry with you honey/if you need me to/I’ll dry your tears, dry your tears for you/There is no crime, there is no crime/and you and I were meant to live our dreams” are Stacy’s worst. The youngest DuPree sister does redeem herself in the end though – The Valley’s final track “Ambulance” is another highlight. As Stacy’s best, “Ambulance” displays dynamic musicality, honest and heartrending lyricism, and soulful vocal melodies.
The Valley may be the “Jekyll and Hyde” of indie rock concerning the quality of each song. As an album, there are hits and misses. Still, when Eisley hits, they hit hard. The Valley is one of the strongest indie pop albums to drop in the last few years.