On their second LP, Eisley bring us more songs touched by luminous, engrossing melodies coupled with rich lyrical images.
"You don't have to know the truth, if you believe it, I believe it too."
-- Eisley, "Invasion"
Eisley release Combinations as their second LP after 2005's Room Noises, which was met with mixed critical review, but drew in a large, intrigued fan base. On this second release, the four DuPree siblings (plus one cousin) bring us more songs touched by luminous, engrossing melodies coupled with rich lyrical images. None of the tracks on Combinations are terribly complex or intricate; in fact, most all of them follow similar structures and deal with the same themes of trust, dreams, and love. But despite typical pop elements, Eisley's sound comes off as fresh and distinct. Perhaps it is Sherri and Stacy DuPree's smooth, liquid-like voices that so definitely distinguish Eisley from their peers, but there is certainly more to Eisley's charm than just enchanting vocals.
Melanie Haupt wrote in The Austin Chronicle about Room Noises, "While Sherri and Staci DuPree have florid imaginations and lovely singing voices, that won't carry the band past one or two LPs." Combinations begs to differ. All five DuPrees contribute to this album's array of versatile sounds, from a pop-rock chorus in "Invasion" to a groove in "Ten Cent Blues" that sounds more like the alt-country of Wilco than indie-pop. Something about Eisley's music is intoxicating. But this "something" is elusive. Their vocals are heartbreaking, their rhythms are arresting, and their melodies are haunting, but many bands' music shares these adjectives. What pervades all of Eisley's music is an unnamable quality, some characteristic that is impossible to express except through the music itself.
"Come Clean" opens with the line "Mister, I don’t believe in you." This, and all of Eisley's lyrics, echo with feelings of hurt and loss, and more than anything else, distrust. But Eisley never touts their aching, and instead, through repeated phrases and subtle gestures, gently reveal to us that the pain is present; "Go away, leave me on my own," repeats over and over again on "Go Away", enough times that we are forced to wonder if they really mean it.
The songs are all oddly melancholy and subtly tragic. Even "Many Funerals", a song of mourning, never bluntly proclaims its intentions, but rather slowly develops ideas through imagery and earnest songwriting. The chorus of "I Could Be There For You" is painfully gorgeous. The song begins simply with subdued beats, but gradually adds layers of melody until it builds into a dreamy, yet powerful, state of sound. "You are nothing what you seem," they sing, and struggle with the universal problem of truth concealed by mystery. "Would you open your door?" they ask, a bittersweet plea to get beyond the surface.
More than anything else, Combinations highlights the group’s strong control over the tone and theme of their music. While most of these tracks (and songs from Eisley's previous repertoire) are free-flowing and enchanting, "A Sight to Behold" is somewhat choppy, considerably heavier, and darker in comparison, and shows that Eisley are capable of more than just the sugary-sweet. Where "Combinations" is straight-up beautiful with touches of trumpet and the focus on the vocals, "Ten Cent Blues" is more country than anything else, seemingly one of few reflections of Eisley’s Texas roots. The lyrics are somewhat naïve, yet strangely profound:
I'm sorry I don't have her face,
and I'm probably going to lose this race.
There is no doubt she's such a mouse,
With such an abstract grace.
The term "abstract grace" seems to describe Combinations perfectly. The album proves Eisley to be masters of melody, strong lyricists, and capable of evoking a whole combination of emotions that are unable to be described using words. Hans Christian Andersen said, "Where words fail, music speaks." Fortunately for us, Eisley's lovely, refreshing, and affecting new disc speaks quite loudly.