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Courtesy of Equal Vision Records

February 28, 2017

TEST SPIN: Eisley — I’m Only Dreaming

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With cover art that looks like a 1960s cinemascope collage, deep, resonant chords and nostalgic lyrics, Eisley’s fifth album exudes longing.  The Texas-based Indie Pop group, founded in 1997 by an eclectic bunch of siblings and cousins, tries to capture and harmonize something simultaneously far-off and contemporaneous. Like the collage cover art indicates, the album truly melds a universal sympathy that connects so many unrelated moments—the far-off planet—and yet it also retains a sense of western egotism—the Marilyn Monroe-esque figure crying newspaper tears.  This collage metaphor carries beyond the cover art, the track list and the album.  Eisley—which translates to ice island in many Germanic languages—named itself after Mos Eisley, a space town in the fictional Star Wars universe.   The band blends a sense of ephemeral, lighthearted pop culture with sounds and emotions that strike incurable human sensitivities.

Eisley ambitiously bridges the now and the forever in I’m Only Dreaming, released on February 17.  And despite a bass guitar nearly drowning out the lyrics in “Defeatist,” the family band largely succeeds.  Sherri Dupree, the band’s 33 year-old lead vocalist, hones a young teen-drama-queen character turned poet.  Her voice holds a simple, inherently listenable quality that invites listeners into her dream-world.  While Sherri sings innocuous words, her siblings add a connotative strength to the music with their instrumental accompaniment. This wordless dramatization strips away Sherri’s pop-star façade and offers a new perspective on what could have been another replaceable dance song.  Among other factors like tone deafness and an inability to sight-read music, my own childhood sibling band, the “Pink Posse,” failed for lack of what makes Eisley succeed—a message worth sharing.  The band grasps the complexities of what it means to sing lightly about the things we deeply feel.  The result captures in words and sounds what it feels like to fall in love, to fall apart, to feel inconsequential and to also think your world might end.  Eisley reconciles the seemingly cataclysmic power of a moment and the minuteness of that event in a larger view.

When a listener takes Eisley’s “small, sweet hand” he/she wades through psychology and reality.  When the lyrics sound insignificant, the music necessitates a reaction.  When Sherri’s voice picks up an emotional chord, the instruments listen back.  Each track plays out with a double consciousness—a public and private self.  This dynamic works well because Eisley’s members act as collaborative musicians while also being siblings. The band, a public venture, also exists as a family unit—a family unnaturally sympathetic, communicative, receptive and musical.  I’m Only Dreaming explores this relationship between a social and independent character by inventing new ways of not just singing about, but understanding, familiar subjects, emotions and events.  The mixed-media cover art accurately represents the hybrid nature of Eisley’s pop-alternative album.

That 1960 Internationalist collage-style artwork came as a reaction to the commodification, fetishization and financialization of artwork through the bourgeois avant-garde and the politically figurative movements of the post WWII era.  Internationalist artists worked to resist these pressures by making art of mundane objects and subjects.  They got ahead of commodification’s progress in flattening a sense of individualism and satirically amalgamated consumer-culture images in an unusual, strange, thought-provoking manner.  Now nearly eighty years later, an art industry further monopolized by capitalist interests creates the same environment for resistance. With some careful cultivation by a mainstream producer, Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming could be a series of radio hits for weeks on end. This same producer might also cut half the family for a more attractive, talented, provocative dynamic. Eisley flirts with this boundary between super-stardom pop success and instead falls—or climbs—to the side of uncontrived art making.  An ear for honesty predominantly influences Eisley’s work where many musicians listen for marketability. While artists trade self-fulfillment for brand consistency, Eisley holds strong to fluid thoughts, feelings and stories.

Eisley stands directly against the mainstream music market just like 1960 collage art and the I’m Only Dreaming cover work.  Their music incorporates all the right elements but assembles these sounds, lyrics and melodies in unconventional tracks.  In Internationalist art, critics identified this oppositional device as the grotesque—in which everything appears as one thing but functions exactly oppositely.   Given its lyrics, I’m Only Dreaming could be light, dance music—pop.  But the instrumentals lend an innovative interpretation to something so close to radio candy.  Just like the Internationalist movement shook up the lulling over politicized art world, Eisley’s album arouses an ear trained to top ten hits.  On March 3rd the sibling group will perform at Ithaca’s The Haunt, so bring your pop-music friend.

 

Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.  She can be reached at jmc628@cornell.edu.