Eisley: Marvelous Things

Andrew Gilstrap


Marvelous Things

Label: Reprise
US Release Date: 2003-11-18

Laughing City
(Record Collection)
US release date: 20 May 2003

by Andrew Gilstrap
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A long time ago, I caught a stand-up comedian (his name now forgotten), standing in front of the requisite brick wall, who mentioned that Mozart had written his first pieces of music at the age of three or four. "Of course, you never get to hear those," came the approximate punchline. "How good could they be?"

The question seems just as valid for the current crop of artists coming out of the gates. More and more, it seems like the best songs are coming from kids too young to drink, vote, or sometimes even drive. It makes you feel old and cranky, and prone to even more regrets than you already have about not sticking with those guitar lessons, not taking that cross-country drive right after graduation, or not (insert your own lost opportunity for artistic and personal growth here).

Initially, you want to say that rock 'n' roll isn't the most demanding of musical paths, that any schmo with three-chords can... and then you realize that even three piddlin' chords seem like perilous territory for a lot of artists these days. Which indirectly (in that codger-like roundabout way that could still bring up rotary phones and a pre-VCR childhood before all is said and done) brings us to Eisley.

Ranging in age from 15 to 21 (15-year-old Stacy DuPree is the main songwriter -- and so far, Eisley have written all nine of their songs), Eisley consist of three sisters, their brother, and a friend. The product of a home-schooled Tyler, Texas upbringing, Eisley create a sound that definitely fits squarely in the Throwing Muses/Belly/Sundays mold, but which also occupies its own fey landscape. Imagine if Kate Bush had been a young American eccentric instead of a British one, and you get a good idea of the foundation Eisley are quietly laying for themselves. Fantastical lyrics, wispy melodies, and good guitar parts -- what's not to like?

While the group don't have a full-length album yet (despite already opening for Coldplay), they have released two interesting EPs, Laughing City and Marvelous Things. It's a smart way to enter the fray: the earlier Laughing City grabs you faster, but Marvelous Things shows the group gently throwing new shades into the mix. By the time they get around to releasing a full-length, they should have quite a few kinks worked out (they've also gone through five producers already -- including themselves -- so the Eisley sound seems nicely resistant to outside influences).

Laughing City begins wtih "I Wasn't Prepared", in which Eisley establish their main attention-getter. Either Sherri or Stacy Dupree (it's never clear which) launches into measure-scanning vocal flights, carrying syllables and wordless melodies far past the point where most other singers would have stopped. She also tends to sing in very measured paces, in a clearly delineated rising/falling pattern. At times, she oversings, and is obviously still exploring the limits -- both physical and stylistic -- of her voice. It's never bad, but over the course of two EPs, you definitely find yourself locking into the template and wondering what her singing style will naturally develop into.

What works additional wonders is when the remaining singing DuPree sister joins in for soaring harmonies. On Marvelous Thing's "Telescope Eyes", for example, the two voices begin to weave around each other with almost telepathic ease; throughout both EPs, the sisters find ways to make ethereal vocal sections even less earthbound.

Musically, Eisley are pretty focused as well, as guitarists Chauntelle and Sherri DuPree are locked into a full-bodied indie sound. The ominous guitar intro of "Telescope Eyes" gives way to a chiming backdrop that alternates with clean power chords (if there's one noticeable weakness in the band's guitar approach, though, it's that the loud, aggressive chords lack personality). "Over the Mountains" makes good use of staccato guitar blasts as well. The DuPrees definitely know their way around minor-chord flourishes as well; there's seldom a moment when a passage needs a little extra touch and doesn't get it.

"The Winter Song" does a wonderful job of evoking that season, while "Tree Tops" shows that the band can experiment, through nice use of a solid drum beat, a jewelry box melody, and even distant strains of circus music. "Laughing City" basks in plaintive organ tones, and the deliberate piano of "I Wasn't Prepared" creates a solid bedrock for the vocals to come.

Solid in purpose and in skill, and just a little bit artsy, Eisley definitely serve notice that they're worth keeping an eye on. It's easy to chalk any minor shortcoming up to youth without feeling like you're cutting them undue slack, because it obviously is youth that drives each member of Eisley to see what he or she can do with such gleeful abandon. There's a refreshing unselfconsciousness to Laughing City and Marvelous Things. When the full-length record finally comes, maybe they'll have some wrinkles ironed out, but if not, there's still plenty in Eisley's style to enjoy.

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