An EP usually acts as a sort of preview for a band’s next major release. When Eisley released Deep Space E.P. last year, it saw them taking a more straightforward rock approach to their music, experimenting with sounds outside their typical brand of folksy indie pop. “Laugh It Off” was a slice of jazzy light rock, and the title track saw the band toying with prog, with a huge hook that would put most alt-rock bands to shame. All signs pointed towards their next major release, Currents, being their brashest, most boisterous work. Count on Eisley to buck expectations and release their most subdued album yet, equal parts lush indie rock and dark dream pop.
Currents is probably Eisley’s least accessible album. Unlike their previous major releases, it’s self-produced and not on a major label. It’s not very catchy or full of memorable hooks. It’s not an album that shuns time changes or awkward rhythms. Lyrically, it’s not as direct as, say, The Valley, which was clearly a break-up record. Currents is not as immediately inviting as it could – and possibly should – be.
But Currents is not without its joys. It’s an album that gets better with each listen, whose charms reveal themselves with some poking and prodding from the listener. After a while, one begins to appreciate the staccato clang of the guitar riff in the title track or how the string section in the album’s centrepiece, “Wicked Child,” makes the song sound like Disneyfied indie rock. The little percussive flourishes here and there, especially on “Blue Fish,” are like ear candy. Drummer Weston DuPree has outdone himself here; he’s the band’s not-so-secret weapon. But he never takes any opportunity to show off; in fact, none of the instruments do, not even the vocals. There are no showcases for the DuPree sisters’ vocals, like The Valley’s “Ambulance,” on Currents. This is a subdued record, more interested in atmosphere than showcasing virtuosity.
It’s clear that Eisley has paid keen attention to detail on this record. The album’s first three tracks, “Currents,” “Blue Fish,” and “Drink the Water,” all have a water motif in their lyrics, and accordingly, there’s some subtle reverb on the vocals that makes the songs sound like they’re being recorded underwater. One of the album’s livelier tracks, “Save My Soul,” is punctuated with handclaps. “Millstone” maintains a folksy vibe by keeping the restricting the percussion to toms and a bass drum. Eisley knows exactly how to get the sounds they’re looking for.
However, some credit must go to Jeremy Larson, who mixed the album and arranged and recorded the string arrangements. He has a knack for bringing instruments into and out of the forefront as need be, without letting any of them overpower the others. From a technical and sonic perspective, Currents is very nearly perfect.
Unfortunately, the album loses quite a bit of steam in its second half with too many similar-sounding tracks. “Find Me Here” is just boring, as is the first half of “Wonder English,” which also commits the sin of featuring some incredibly inane lyrics: “English, oh I’ve found / Has no words to correctly describe / The way love sounds / So I will sing, hey la la / Hey oh oh.” It sounds almost as if the band’s energy is flagging. Luckily, things pick up again with the fantastic “The Night Comes” and “Shelter,” the latter of which closes out the record.
But because of the lack of variety on this record, I can’t shake the feeling that Eisley might have been better off recording another EP, so that they could have released another barnburner like Deep Space. Honestly, with three or four of its tracks relegated to b-side status, Currents might have worked better. Instead, the pacing is thrown off by too many slow songs bunched together.
Still, Currents is a good – even great – album, but it’s not the triumph that Combinations or The Valley were. It’s definitely a grower, an album that I even sort of disliked on first listen. But a half-dozen spins later, my opinion had changed considerably, and I felt as if the record were opening up to me. Maybe in another half-dozen spins, I’ll even prefer it to Eisley’s last two major releases. But for now, what I can say is that Currents is a confident, mature album, surprising in its ability to go against listeners’ expectations. This probably isn’t the Eisley record anybody asked for. But it just might be the Eisley record we need.