Stale Muffins: Eisley’s Indescribably Combinations

Given the review of Eisley’s Fire Kite EP on this site, I thought it’d be good to revisit a review of Eisley’s magnificent 2007 effort Combinations. The text is below, while the aforementioned link goes to a baseball and short attention span theater blog experiment myself and my friend Victoria pieced together back then.

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SRIRAM:
Wow, long time since there has been a blog entry — and this  is not your typical Red Sox entry.  But, hey, when Victoria moves, got to write about SOMETHING, right?

So, Victoria lured me into purchasing “Combinations”, the latest album by the Texas band Eisley.  Now, I must admit a couple of things.  First, unlike most of you, I had heard of Eisley before, mostly because Victoria had a connection, and so I have some inside baseball knowledge of their journey and whatnot.  I will refrain from exploring any of that here.  While I can root for them because I know someone with a horse in the race, it has nothing to do with the art (or non-art) in and of itself.  Second, I have no idea how to write a competent review for an album.  So, after listening to the album, I went an explored some of thereviews by more competent individuals than I.  Looking at the few generally favourable reviews I saw, I went back and listened to the album again, trying to see if I could identify the complexity and layered Fleetwood Mac-esque sounds.  I listened again, to see the lack of cohesion thematically in the songs (the main criticism I saw in the reviews I read).  I listened again to see if I could see how it was a bunch of cute songs but without a unified album “thing” that held it down from greatness.  Once all this happened, I suddenly realized I had heard the album from front to back (with a bonus track for good measure) three or four times on my own valition!  In this ITunes universe we live in (which I am certainly an enthusiastic participant), who does that anymore?

Let’s cut right to the chase.  I came to this album prepared to listen to it, enjoy it, like I did their previous effort “Room Noises”, patronize Victoria a little bit and then let it drift off into the distance.  The previous album showed Eisley to be gifted musicians, with lovely female voices, who made serially adorable songs.  It was teen-angst as sung by Tinkerbell.  I liked it, but in a cheeky, whimsical way.  Like “Reservoir Dogs”, it showed the talent, but in fits and starts, and while kind of neat, did not sit and marinate in the soul.   However, after the first listening, I had to listen to it again, and have not been able to get it out of my mind.  In a genre that is generally dead creativity wise (the highly derivative rock genre — you want originality, go find Dave Chappelle’s Block Party Soundtrack or Common’s Finding Forever), this is a terrific, startling album.  It is terrific because it IS multilayered, complex and touches the melancholy, fierce and adorable areas of the music palate with equal aplomb.  It is startling because you just don’t EXPECT to be hit by something like this, not after I left the college years.

The album is constructed like a good baseball lineup.  The driving guitar and rhythm of “Many Funerals” gets you into the game quickly, and like Johnny Damon in 2004, delivers some pop at the beginning.  “Invasion”, the sci-fi single, is solid and pesky, like Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia.  Good contributor to the album, but really it’s virtue is getting us from the beginning of the album to the Papi/Manny meat of the order.  In particular, two songs deserve special attention.  “Taking Control” and “Go Away”, the 3 and 4 tracks on the album, are the clear best songs on the album, and good for completely different reasons.  From what I hear from Victoria, “Go Away” is probably the most loved song from Eisley fans perspectives and such.  This makes sense to me, listening to “Room Noises”.  It is certainly the best “typical Eisley” song on the album.  If you thought of the Eisley brand coming in as a Coldplay with guileless female voices, then “Go Away” is the most effective demonstration of that Eisley on the album.  That said, “Taking Control” is NOT in keeping with Eisley’s previous sound, but is a remarkable rock and roll song.  The song, starting with its motor-esque drum beats and “when we get down/we’ll get up again” nobody is going to f*** with us defiance, leads into the fist-shaking energy of a serially singable chorus.  To wit, if the voices were hard bitten men and not sweet sounding “girls”, the song would be pounced on by any record company or fan as a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “London Calling”-esque generational anthem.  It’s that good.  If this is the album that allows Eisley to “arrive” to people besides die hard college student, prisoners, or anyone else who watches Conan O’Brien regularly, this is the song they will “arrive” with.

The rest of the album, like the rest of the batting order, supplies depth and toughness to the whole album.  There are a lot of singles on this album.  “I Could Be There For You” and “Come Clean” are effective, solid songs that support the tone that “Go Away” starts.  Certain critics in the reviews I read to research this mentioned that the tone of the album does get shifted going from up-tempo-anthem to more Coldplay-ish, to a couple of flights of whimsy (“Ten Cent Blues” — a cheeky country-tinged ditty) prevent it from getting to true greatness.  That might have some validity, and the tone does change weirdly at points (the odd appearance of “A Sight to Behold”).  More valid a criticism I think, is that the album in its last couple of tracks, seems to set up a knockout punch (a la “Carry That Weight” in the Beatles’ Abbey Road) that it never cashes in on.  There is no guignol finish to be had, which was something of a disappointment.  However, to be fair, the slow, lovely, quiet, “If You’re Wondering” is a terrific song to finish the album, and creates a good, contemplative sense to end the record on.

The nuances of album construction are things that can be fixed.  And ultimately, an album is a collection of songs before it is anything else.  And as a collection of songs, this is a terrific album, a complex musical treat that contains deftly written and performed songs running the entire emotional gamut.  While I cannot say the album changed my life, that might be a function of age and perspective.  This album COULD change someone’s life though — it is a special piece of work.

VICTORIA:
Great comments Sriram. Eisley is dear to my heart and I want them to succeed on any level they are comfortable with. In a perfect world, they would make enough money, get enough attention and respect, live peaceful, private and creative lives, and just have fun. I love their music. Period. I want the world to hear it and be happy. The world is a very, very messed up place these days and we need good music in it to sooth our savage souls.

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