Painful experiences lent a helping hand in transforming a good indie rock band into a great one.
In his book Drops Like Stars, writer and emergent thinker Rob Bell looks at the connections between suffering and creativity, pain and art. Near the end of the book, he quotes sculptor Harriet March as saying “everything has meaning. I give it meaning. I reuse, reshape, recast all that goes wrong so that in the end nothing is wasted and nothing is without significance and nothing ceases to be precious to me”. He then goes on to ponder whether March is talking about sculpture or life, finally deciding that the answer to that question is “yes”. I imagine Sherri DuPree would connect deeply with that sentiment as her band’s album The Valley was born from the pains of her divorce, yet captures a beauty and a hope that could only come from the survival of such a hardship.
Eisley, a band consisting of family members Sherri (vocals/guitar), Stacy (vocals, keyboard), Chauntelle (guitar), Garron (bass), and Weston DuPree (drums) made a name for themselves on past albums by capturing images of the surreal. The band’s back catalog of indie pop-rock is drenched in songs of fantasy and child-like wonder. As unfortunate as the circumstances were that led to the writing of The Valley, one can only surmise that they played a large role in molding this band into a unit that has now delivered its best work to date.
The opening title track begins with brilliant backing strings as Stacy sings “Real heart breaker 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”. With this introduction, the tone is set for what is meant to be an emotional roller coaster ride through the difficult past few years of the girls' lives. A brilliant opener, “The Valley” embodies everything that fans of Eisley’s past work have come to love -- amazing and almost angelic like harmonies from the girls, simple yet extremely well placed instrumentation, and a tone that perfectly captures the heart behind their music.
The angry second track “Smarter” is where the progression really begins. Heavier guitars, extremely forthright lyrics, and a bite to Sherri’s voice that hadn’t been put to tape until now. On the song, she confesses “If I had one wish it’d be for you and all your friends that didn’t like me/And if I had one wish it’d be that we had danced more at that apocryphal wedding”. Don’t be confused though -- this isn’t the juvenile, misdirected anger that saturates so much of today’s teenage post-punk scene. This is the assessment of someone who’s come out on the other side of a painful experience smarter and stronger. Eisley carries this momentum through the piano driven “Watch it Die” and the groovy “Sad”, which very well could be the band’s catchiest song so far.
While “Oxygen Mask” begins to hint at a light at the end of the tunnel, the first real ray of hope is felt on “Better Love”. A track marked with incredible guitar sounds and perhaps the album’s best use of Stacy and Sherri’s dual vocals, “Better Love” finds Sherri proclaiming “Now I can brave myself” as the band glides into another outstanding chorus. The album’s pace subsides a bit over the next few tracks as it leads into The Valley’s hidden gem, the ambient “Mr. Moon”. As Sherri recalls the painful days following the discovery of betrayal, “Mr. Moon” perhaps best exemplifies the painful reality of brokenness following such an experience. The beauty of this track is found in a wonderful momentary turn to the bright as she proclaims the hope she found through her sisters, comparing them to the brilliance of fireflies.
After a poppy treat in the form of “Please”, the album closes with “Ambulance”, a song written by Stacy that first appeared on the band’s Fire Kite EP two years earlier. The song encompasses the theme of the album as Stacy questions “And is it really safe to say/That we’re just made that way, made to brave the pain?” While this version doesn’t expand much on its predecessor, it feels like the perfect close to The Valley.
In Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell explains that when “we hear something born of suffering and adversity, we’re moved because it’s honest. It’s real. It means something”. This is a large part of what makes The Valley so special. Not everyone has felt the pain of a divorce, but each of us have known valleys in our own lives and the pain, struggle and hope that ensued in our climb to the other side. Eisley has captured this experience brilliantly and crafted an album whose missteps are so few and far between that they simply add to its character as a whole. The Valley is a story that had to be told and now begs to be heard again and again.