Eisley | I’m Only Dreaming (Equal Vision)

It falls into the category of albums that get more engrossing the more you listen.

Twenty years is a long time to be a band, even if it’s with your siblings. Despite the close bond of the brother, sisters, and cousin in Eisley, people change, and sometimes they decide to pursue other projects. With the departure of siblings Weston Dupree (drummer), Stacy King (keys, vocalist, songwriter), and Chauntelle D’agostino (guitarist, vocalist, songwriter), this only leaves Garron Dupree and Sherri Dupree-Bemis to form the band.

Anyone who follows the band closely knows how tight and collaborative the siblings and cousin’s songwriting and recording process is in the studio. Obviously, this meant that Eisley would see at least some change in the following album. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as drastic lineup changes can often be a means of reinvention and reinterest to the public; such as with Fleetwood Mac’s history of various members back in the day, and Paramore’s bold, self-titled fourth album after two of their core members left.

Thankfully, Eisley’s latest outing, I’m Only Dreaming, embraces the change rather than try and imitate the past. The 11-song collection sees Dupree-Bemis as the primary songwriter throughout. While she may claim in interviews that her sound is the Eisley sound and that’s the reason she’s still using the Eisley name, the music throughout feels different from previous efforts. For one thing, the songs are overall more guitar driven, and more alternative rock than pop-punk as compared to the angsty The Valley. This change is obviously due to no longer having King as the pianist/keyboardist in the band.

Songs such as the rocking opener “Always Wrong,” single “You Are Mine,” and album highlights “A Song for the Birds” and “Brightest Fire” take after the ’90s emo revival; a sound that’s never really been explored on Eisley albums, though they’ve always cited Sunny Day Real Estate and Starflyer 59 as big influences. At the same time, it’s also a nice change of pace to hear Dupree-Bemis & Co. explore indie-electronic sounds on songs such as “Sparking” and “Louder than a Lion.” Dupree-Bemis has always personally cited Radiohead as a major influence on her work, and it shows in these two songs through the combination of electronics and guitars.

The more prominent use of guitar, however, isn’t the only reason the music feels different, but also the melody composition. Compared to previous albums, the melodies Dupree-Bemis composes here don’t feel quite as innovative or catchy. While “A Song for the Birds” might be a highlight of the album, the vocal line also feels a little tame, lacking the tension and dynamic that songs on previous efforts have. Same goes for the whimsical “Rabbit Hole.” While it’s musically similar to older songs like “Find Me Here,” “192 Days,” and “Combinations,” it doesn’t quite have a dynamic or catchy memorable melody line.

On the other hand, we have a song like “Snowfall” that starts out with some of the most atmospheric vocal work and mysterious instrumental composition heard from the band, but once the rest of the band suddenly kicks in, the booming section that follows isn’t as interesting or dramatic as needed. On the single “You Are Mine,” Dupree-Bemis at least tries to sing in a lower range, which isn’t something we’ve heard her do much on previous albums. Instrumentally the song shines and the melody almost works, but the chorus doesn’t feel as thought out as the verses, and the lyrics don’t help. Sure, reading lyrics out loud from anyone may feel awkward, but if the words flow in a song, then it’s usually fine.

In the case of “You Are Mine,” it’s not so much the lyrics “You’re my everything, my sun and moon, you make me swoon” that are an eye roll (sure, it’s cheesy), but including the phrase “piss me off” in the following line that changes the feeling from poetic cheesiness to straight-up trashy. Lead single “Defeatist” also suffers from not having a particularly interesting melody, subpar lyrics, and logical musical transitions. However, its context within the album makes it work better than as a standalone song. Indie-tronic “Sparking” has one of the best musical arrangements and more creative melody composition on the album. However, its lyrics are a little too simple and don’t give a sense of mystery.

While Dupree-Bemis is known for some rough lyrical wording on previous albums, she’s at least always had a knack of conveying mystery and/or whimsy even in those moments. Her metaphors and word flow in the past felt beautiful and natural, and it’s a shame that on I’m Only Dreaming, this quality in her word choices isn’t always on par with what she can fully do.

Overall, Dupree-Bemis might not have intentionally set out to change the Eisley sound, but I’m Only Dreaming is for sure more of an alternative rock album rather than standard fare indie-pop (this could explain the change in melodies being less poppy, actually). Like many alternative rock albums, initial listens may not seem interesting, but thankfully, I’m Only Dreaming is in the category of albums that get more engrossing the more you listen. Again, this effort isn’t without its flaws, but the flaws presented end up becoming points of interest and, at times, likable quirks. I’m Only Dreaming may not have the amount of ear candy that, say, Combinations or The Valley has, but the work presented ends up having more substance. It feels more like a natural, mature progression from their debut Room Noises, which was also less accessible than the following releases.

If we were to judge Eisley with this album alone and not any of the previous four releases, this would be a fairly decent debut. No doubt, with the recent buzz surrounding Eisley as well as a successful tour being direct support for labelmates The Dear Hunter, I’m Only Dreaming might fare well as a reintroduction of the band to a new and bigger audience. B- | Michael Cheng

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