Eisley has built an incredible and seemingly underrated reputation for creating dreamscapes amidst emotional and heartfelt lyrics behind the understated, but powerful vocals of 3 of the 4 DuPree siblings, Stacy, Chauntelle and Sherri. Shortly after album no. 4, Currents, the group, which includes DuPree cousin Garron underwent a significant change during a 2015 tour with Copeland in which Chauntelle and Stacy left the band full time to pursue other musical projects and also saw the departure of brother Weston as the full time drummer and reduced his role to drumming for the group in the studio. The change resulted in cousin Garron gaining a larger role and the most visible of the DuPrees, Sherri elevated to a full time lead vocal role. From there, the reformed group set about to produce, write and record their next album, their fifth, first in nearly three years and the first with DuPree-Bemis in a lead vocalist AND primary songwriting role.
The result is I'm Only Dreaming, eleven tracks of what Sherri described in a press release: "Musically, you could say its classic Eisley, in the sense that's its melodic, moody pop and is written from the heart." That is certainly true, along with the lyrics that invoke a sense of whimsical and understated dreaminess, but delivers all eleven tracks in a vocal delivery that is sure to redefine the vocal sounds of the Texas crew, she's delivers in a bright, glossy and dreamy style, which is brought out even more by that "classic Eisley sound" that have defined them from the very beginning.
The album begins with opener "I'm Always Wrong," a punchy, moody track offset by an almost ethereal quality to Sherri's vocals. This might be as close as the group gets to their original sound, which was an almost paradoxical quality of dark moodiness combined with a sunny vocal delivery, which made for an oddly listenable emotional roller coaster. "Defeatist," which is the first single released from this album back in September follows the same motif as the opening "I'm Always Wrong," a subtly dark brooding groove followed by a uplifting chorus that comes off as rather confessional and executed in an entrancing fashion to add a little original flair to a song that is otherwise vintage Eisley before the reshuffling of the deck.
"Song For The Birds" ushers in the refreshed musical direction led by Sherri and Garron and features Sherri's husband, Max Bemis of Say Anything. Just as she had described in a press release, the musicianship here in still classic Eisley, but unlike the opening two tracks, Sherri opts for a straight up dreamy sunny disposition vocally, juxtaposed by Max's punchy, gravelly guest vocal in the second verse that adds a little variety to the track.
"Sparking" continues the journey into a new track and in the new era for the band could well be a track that defines both the musical direction and also Sherri's songwriting abilities; the lyrics are strong with metaphors about a sparrow and the punchy, yet beautiful and glossy arrangement showcase what the group are capable of doing with the lineup shuffle. The only bugaboo is that the arrangement lends to a longer runtime than the breezy 3:46 that it gives, it could easily last another 2 to 3 minutes for a more satisfying conclusion. In today's music world, even for indie players, one can get away from the album concept with just a handful of songs clocking in the 5 to 6 minute range and a song like "Sparking" deserves that treatment.
"My Best Friend" is a deep confessional and apologetic letter from someone who feels they let their best friend down and gets it committed to song.
Eisley enters acoustic territory with "Rabbit Hole," a song that will put to rest to those who wonder how an Eisley record will sound with just Sherri as lead vocalist. This song is a perfect way to display Sherri's vocal talents; she comes off as ethereal and hypnotic with a subtly soft and whimsical quality to it. Her songwriting abilities also shine to a bright max as well as she uses a metaphor of the track's title to convey what is simply a heartfelt love letter.
"Louder Than a Lion" changes directions completely for the duration of the track and serves as a real dark, but oddly uplifting confessional for Sherri, who wrote the lyrics as a letter to her two daughters. She revealed recently of her sleep anxiety and her struggles for years with the anxiety but relayed some positivity to the issue as she could watch over her daughters asleep peacefully, watching over them and keeping the darkness away even as she feels the darkness in her loneliness. This is evident in the lyrics and musical arrangement, where the arrangement serves as a fitting motif to her feelings as opposed to the lyrics, which while dark; also serves a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark situation. Circa Survive's Anthony Green provides well-fit guest vocals to the song.
The mood decidedly returns to its newly established sunny and whimsical roots in next track, "You Are Mine," the most recently released single for the album. This one might be the best track on the entire album, a wonderful meshing of Sherri's magical lyrics, the ability to switch between the gentle deliveries in the main verses, the delicate but forceful quality in the refrain alongside the amazing mish-mash of guitars, drums, keys and the bass work of Garron DuPree; who in the reshuffle has taken a far much larger role than he undertook in the past.
"When You Fall" stumbles a bit, easily the weakest of the 11-track bunch. It is not to say it's an awful track, it isn't with the brilliant lyrics and Sherri's varied vocal deliveries, the musical arrangement behind it was honestly just too vanilla for this reviewer and could easily end up being skipped in favor of "Snowfall," the next track.
"Snowfall" showcases once again just like "Sparking" the extent of what Sherri is capable of as a songwriter and vocalist when left to be the one to highlight it all. The song combines superb keys work, excellent drumming with a marching, hypnotic beginning that segues seamlessly into a punchy, drum fueled melodic middle and ends with a grainy but hypnotic key-fueled finish. A fantastic song from start to finish but like "Sparking," could benefit from an extra minute or two for that truly satisfying finish.
The ending of "Snowfall" actually segues right into the closer "Brightest Fire," another metaphorical love letter but arranged very similarly like the opening tracks "Always Wrong" and "Defeatist," so expect the punchy but moody musical arrangement but now juxtaposed with metaphorical love letter lyrics and the overall sunny, breezy disposition of Sherri's vocals.
I'm Only Dreaming showcases a refreshed musical direction for the reshuffled Texas crew. They clearly are capable of hitting notes from the past but songs like "Song For The Birds," "Louder Than A Lion," "Sparking" and "Snowfall" show off what the band is now capable of doing under the direction of Sherri DuPree-Bemis. Songs like that will take Eisley will make everyone else who have for some reason kept them under their radar for the better part of two decades finally put them on the radar.