Eisley's debut EP, Laughing City, is a troublesome little record. I've been listening to it all week, and it's left me quite torn. This family act (four of this quintet are siblings, three of which are sisters) from the little East Texas town of Tyler is being hailed as a 'band to watch,' 'the next big thing' and other meaningless music industry terms. Personally, it's hard not to listen to this EP without triggering my mental 'reviewer proceed with caution' siren. After all, shouldn't an astute music critic be wary of all the forms of hype that often accompany young bands like Eisley?
Of course they should.
On one hand, it's extremely hard to dislike Eisley. You want to root for them, and I'll admit I'm a sucker for family acts. Even if I don't care for their music, I still think it's really nice when siblings would want to music together. There have been some great family acts in the past (personal faves are Cowsills, Beach Boys, Danielson Familie, Jesus & Mary Chain, Redd Kross and Bee Gees), and the chemistry between brothers and/or sisters cannot compare to a regular band. The young ones in Eisley (and they are young, ranging in age from 14-21) are cute, adorable, and more than a little vulnerable looking. It's hard not to want to root for Eisley; their smalltown history tempered with innocent charm easily makes Eisley the cute little underdog you want to succeed.
Too bad, though, that it sounds utterly contrived.
For a young and new band, Laughing City seems too slick, too glossy, too....soulless. It is painfully apparent that someone has invested some grand expectations in Eisley, and that these five kids are being prepped for greatness. It's also painfully obvious that such investments are to the detriment of the one thing that's truly important: the music. Sherri DuPree sounds like an East Texas-via-Boston-circa-1990 version of Coldplay's Chris Martin as interpreted by Juliana Hatfield and/or Belly. (It should also be pointed out that they're managed by Coldplay's 'people.') It's all a bit too clean-cut, too nice, too...plastic. The sheen and polish sucks the life out of the songs, and it really is a shame. "Tree Tops" could have been a great folky little number that could have given Mirah a run for her money, but it's just been gilded with studio time, effectively extinguishing any spark that might have caught fire. About the only song that's really worth the price of admission is the final cut, "Laughing City," but by then, the damage is done.
You really have to wonder if Eisley's handlers are looking past the obvious dollar signs. Laughing City has the feel of a record by committee: glossy sound, hip pseudo-'indie' label, photo shoots, expensive clothes, hip producers--notice the tip of the hat to the currently hot Omaha scene. It's too bad, too, because I'd like to hear what the real Eisley sounds like. I'd hate to think that they're only being groomed for popularity for the obvious financial benefits of three cute sisters, but Laughing City leaves me with the impression that they're nothing more than that. Gone are the good things that I've heard about them; that they're a good live band, that they've got a raw power to them onstage, driven by some excellent harmonies and their sense of humor. Instead, they seem to be a band that's nothing more than an executive's wet dream for conquering the 'modern rock,' pop and 'indie' scenes with one fell swoop.
I just hope Eisley don't get screwed over when the axe drops on them--and it will drop on them if the kids don't bite. Seems like there's more to them than their record lets on--and others have certainly tried to inform me of that--but as I have yet to see them live, I'm simply going to have to rely only on their record, and I have to set aside the opinions of my friends. Sorry, guys, but I can't judge them on that yet.I'd like to, though.
I want to like you more, Eisley, I really do. As I have nothing to base my impression on except for this record, I can't help but feel as if I've lost eighteen minutes of my life to another (soon-to-be) disappointing major-label hype machine record. In a world where The Strokes and The White Stripes are the new generation's Nirvana and Pearl Jam, you, Eisley have all the ingredients to be the new Eve's Plumb. If you're lucky, you might even be the next Letters to Cleo.
And that's a shame. It really is.