Thursday, February 24, 2005

Behold, all that was old is now Eisley!

Newness happens every once in a while. It can come by surprise, though for me, I'm always looking out for it. A unfamiliar song by a brand new band. You know the feeling. A melody that you can only remember wisps of -- maybe a piece of the bridge. A few loose lyrics that transmute into something other than what you heard, and stand uncorrected until you hear it again. Anxious when driving. Humming the bits you can recall at work. Not quite sure about the whole chorus, improvising guitar solos in your head.

It happened all the time in junior high, when radio was king. Brand new sounds by a band or an artist you'd never heard before. I remember it with Weezer, with Ben Folds Five, with Fiona Apple, and with Radiohead. It still happens, but just in very different ways. Downloading a track from Epitonic. Mix CDs from friends. And most often in my case, every couple months, when I receive my copy of Paste in the mail.

It doesn't happen every issue. In the two and a half years I've been a subscriber, there've been just a handful of new artists that stuck in my head like a roach to one of those sickly smelling death "hotels." Hem was the first. Susan Enan and Jolie Holland came that way, too. New sounds by unfamiliar voices. Snippets of piano and bits of melody. It doesn't happen as often as it used to. But it still happens.

Case in point, my new favorite band, Eisley. Not two weeks ago their new album was playing in Barnes and Noble while I thumbed through the travel writings of Bill Bryson. For a moment, I was sure it was Sixpence None the Richer drifting down from the ceiling. But the songs were too good to be honest. Sixpence hasn't sounded that immediate, that vital, since This Beautiful Mess some 6 or 7 years ago -- which in pop music years might has well have been a lifetime ago. That's how some new artists are. They can pounce on you, going for the jugular of whatever part of the brain contains our taste in melody, harmony and kick-ass guitar solos.

Eisley didn't quite do that. It took another week or so, when I got Paste #14, and hit track 9 on the sampler. I knew the song, but I couldn't say from where. About two minutes into the thing it hit me -- this is the Barnes-and-Noble-Band. And it sounded much better coming from the speakers of my computer than it ever could have from the PA at a semi-cozy and over-lighted chain bookstore. And I was hooked.

The song was "Marvelous Things," track 5 as I've now discovered on Eisley's first full length, Room Noises. If you held me down, and forced me to describe the album at knife-point (as often happens to me), this is how I would begin. Imagine if Leigh Nash of Sixpence and Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays became 19-year-olds again, started a new band, and locked themselves in a house with the complete catalogs of Radiohead, Coldplay, Denali and Pedro the Lion. Sort of/Something like that. Maybe it would sound like Eisley. Maybe not. But it's the best I can do, especially with you waving that knife around.

"Marvelous Things" gave me the shivers the second and third times I played it. I wanted to put it on repeat, letting it go over and over again; but I didn't want to tire of it either. So I simultaneously downloaded the album two nights ago while placing an order for it on Knowing I wouldn't hear this on the radio anytime soon, unless Eisley somehow manages to catch the attention of MTV, internet file-sharing is the best way to hear a few songs before going out and buying the album. Sometimes, it's essentially the only way.

After dowloading the first track, "Memories", I knew "Marvelous Things" wasn't a fluke, and bought the CD while waiting at 5 kb/second for the rest of the album to download. I missed out on the downloading frenzy to get Kid A weeks before anyone it came out in stores, in the pre- cable/DSL days. I didn't download my first song until the T3 lines that came with college life. Patience isn't what it used to be. Can it really be called delayed gratification when instead of waiting the 5 or 6 days for the CD by mail, I download it over the phone line in more like 5 or 6 hours? Maybe, compared to the 20 minutes it takes over DSL. But probably not.

So anyway, I listened to a burnt CD of the album while driving tonight, which instantly makes any album it better. And to top it off, they're a family band from the birthplace of my younger brother -- Tyler, Texas. There's just too much to like here.

And yes, I know I'll probably tire of it someday -- every artist has their cooling off period. It happened with Damien Rice. It happened with Rosie Thomas. It happened with Sigur Ros. It will happen with Eisley.

But until then, I'm going to enjoy the crap out of this CD. I'm going to listen to it with headphones cranked ("still waters run deep...") and while the sun sets on my way to work at night. It's a good album. It took me back to those junior high days, when radio was king, and Rod Stewart, DC Talk and Boys to Men sounded like nothing else in the world. So while it does have moves unfamiliar to anyone else, Eisley still manages to sound like an old friend, hearkening back to the 90s girl pop like that of the Cardigans or Mazzy Star, freely copping Radiohead's theatrics, full of lyrical phrases that wouldn't seem out of place on Mum's Finally We Are No One or early David Bazaan records, before he was trying to prove anything to the indie rock community.

But maybe, in all honesty, nothing is entirely new any more. For as much as I love Jack White or Sam Beam, they're really just reinventing the wheel, albeitly in profound and pulse-quickening ways. If we can admit to that, Eisley sounds vital, too, because in recognizing their influences, we can learn to ignore them, too. And hear a new band -- a new voice -- singing new songs. Songs that rumble around the subconscious, brain waves straining to recapture the chorus until that moment we can hear the song again, or fork over a little hard earned cash to make the music our own, adding it to our own little musical library. Handpicked to join the ranks of whatever it is our ears prefer.

How I wrote this much about one CD I'm not real sure. It's a keeper, though. And I'm glad to have graduated from the bits-of-melody and longing phase to the playing-on-repeat in my CD player phase.

You're right, the courtship was short. But who cares? I'm in love.

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