Friday, July 26, 2013

Eisley - Currents (2013)

Sometimes it's incredible to think that Eisley has been around as long as they have, considering that in terms of full-length studio albums, this is only their 4th.  Granted, there have been some problems with their former label (well documented elsewhere), and some relationship/marital problems were a roadblock between 2007's "Combinations" and 2011's excellent "The Valley".  True, the band was busy in the interim, with an EP release, touring, and so forth, but personal struggles and issues definitely got in the way.  And in some ways, I'm not sure that a new Eisley album each year would be something I'd want.  Some bands (depending on the depth of their material or the style they play) can release a new CD each year and audiences will eat it up.  But for a group like Eisley, despite the general immediacy of their music, each record requires multiple listens and time to let it "sink in" to truly appreciate what they're doing.

Such is especially the case with the band's most recent output, the appropriately titled "Currents".  The album follows an "ebb and flow" (sorry, couldn't resist) feel that centers around water as a metaphor of life and how it moves and changes.  While "Currents" may not be thematically cohesive enough to call a concept album, it's certainly more dense than previous works and has less immediacy in the material, requiring several listens to begin to understand the album.  Sure, the lead-off title track has a hooky chorus and the band's usual buoyant melodic sense, but the initial tone of the album is darker, even, than "The Valley" and may throw some listeners for a loop if they were expecting "The Valley" mark 2.  Ultimately, I think this works in the album's favor, because repeated listens will reveal the beauty within.

Instrumentally, Eisley is excellent as usual.  Guitar is a bit less a focus than before, as there are more layers and textures present here.  Specifically, the piano takes center stage quite a bit, and adds a lot to the sound of the album at a level that piano and keyboards haven't on previous Eisley releases.  Don't think there isn't some guitar to be found, here, however.  There are some nice bits here and there, between the echoing guitar ring in "Currents" and driving riff in that song's chorus, the clean-yet-dark tone of "Blue Fish", to the more jangly rhythms contained elsewhere, notably in "Millstone" or "Lost Enemies".  Overall, the guitar work here is quality, if a bit understated at times.  Drum work is also good here, with nice dynamics.  When songs need "punch" to them, like in the chorus of "Save My Soul", it's there, but they shrink back when necessary so as not to change the tone of the material.  I also applaud the band (wait for it...) for the use of cheesy hand claps in spots where it doesn't seem to make any sense to do so ("Save My Soul"), yet don't sound out of place while you're listening to them.  Bass sounds good here too, and is well utilized.  There are moments when bass drops out completely to allow the piano, drums, or guitars do their thing, and there are spots where the bass work is pretty minimal so as not to overwhelm the mix, but at other times the bass rhythms are quite complimentary to what's going on elsewhere in the song.  As mentioned before, piano and keyboards are often the dominant force on this record, and that is a bit of a change.  Piano & keyboard work has always been an integral part of the Eisley sound, but here there is just so much more key work that it really does outshine everything else in sheer presence.  Also more prominent here than before is the use of stringed instruments, and often to great effect.

Vocally, there's a bit less emphasis on the DuPree sisters' harmonies, though those are still present.  Instead, there's a bit of a shift toward vocals as an instrument, as there are a lot of non-word based vocalizations that fill in spots where one might expect a bridge, solo, or other song padding.  Being that this is a theme album, it works well in the context of "flowing water" and gives an aural representation of same, so I think it works well overall.  I'm not sure this approach would work as well on a standard album where the songs don't flow (I can't help myself) the way they do here, but I like this approach with the material here.  The individual vocal work is good, too, and there are some interesting melodic things going on, especially in the title track, and "Wicked Child".  I'm not sure this is there most boisterous performance (I still think the songs from "Room Noises" get that honor), but then the album's tone doesn't call for that.  Lyrically, the album tackles personal topics with some degree of metaphor, and touches on the band's faith at times ("Blue Fish" seems to touch on that).  "Save My Soul" is a bit obtuse, much like my favorite Eisley track, "Marvelous Things" from the debut album.  Other tracks, like "Real World", carry a much more universal message of love and the importance of strong relationships.  Some of the references to the "water" theme are quite subtle and don't add much to the overall theme, but that reinforces the fact that this isn't a concept album about water, but merely a batch of songs that sort of follow a thematic arch.  So while this might not be their "deepest" batch of lyrics (okay, I'll stop!), mileage will vary as to how much one is spoken to through them.

As I mentioned above, Eisley albums are not usually immediate affairs.  Their music is pretty instantly likable, but in terms of the songs on this album, I think they're the least instantly catchy batch they've put out so far.  Having said that, I also think this may be the best set of songs on any Eisley album, and I say that recognizing that "The Valley" was a really strong set of songs.  I'm still waiting for the band to repeat "Marvelous Things" with something else that deliciously weird and obtuse, but alas, they haven't done so yet.  In the meantime, they've written what I consider to be their strongest album.  It takes several listens to penetrate and really latch on to, but once you do, you may find yourself in the position I've been in the last several weeks - it doesn't leave your stereo or stray far from your playlist.  It's a rewarding album, and something I hope the band gets some traction from.  Despite the failure of their Kickstarter campaign to help fund the album's tour, I hope they can get out and play as many shows as their schedule allows them to, because this is good material that needs to be heard and appreciated.  How this stuff translates live will be interesting, because it's more involved than previous works.  Either way, they have set the bar high for the follow-up.  Highly recommended.


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