When Sherri DuPree announces midway through her band Eisley’s set, “This next song is about a dragon,” she does so without the slightest hint of irony.
While contemporaries like Tenacious D and The Darkness have fashioned careers doing just that, Eisley’s foray into fantasy is rooted in genuine fascination, as indicated by the huge firefly sketched on the banner draped across the back of the stage at Smith’s Olde Bar. (After all, their name references Mos Eisley, the Star Wars
After a few moments pause, the band kicks into the monster-inspired “They All Surrounded Me,” an unreleased, whimsical romp built around Sherri and 16-year-old kid sister Stacy’s soaring harmonies. In fact, this harmony interplay lies at the heart of almost every one of the band’s songs. Wielded by anyone less talented or imaginative than the DuPree sisters, these harmonies would inevitably grow tired. Yet, throughout the show, Sherri, 21, on guitar and Stacy, 16, on Rhodes piano, execute their vocal duties masterfully, sharing lead parts and sometimes—as on “Trolley Wood” and “I Wasn’t Prepared”—rotating leads with each new verse.
On other songs like “Lost at Sea” and “Marvelous Things,” both from the band’s debut full-length, Room Noises, Eisley exudes a raw earnestness in sound and demeanor that goes a long way toward wearing off some of the gloss diminshing its album. Eldest sister and lead guitarist, Chauntelle, 23, guides the self-proclaimed Radiohead-obsessed group through songs like “Mr. Pine,” paying homage to Jonny Greenwood through guitar work that knows when to texture and when to take off.
By the last part of its set—as Eisley glides through the simultaneously charged and carefree “Tree Tops” from 2003’s Laughing City EP—it's readily apparent what makes the band’s lush sound so precarious. Eisley’s flight into fantasy seems most easily attainable through jaunts into ethereal sonic territory. However, they do just the opposite. With only minimal reliance on effects, the three DuPree sisters, their brother, Weston, 19, and family friend, Jon Wilson, 22, create an organic, elfin aesthetic.
What J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis did in literature a half-century ago, Eisley seeks to do in popular music today. Tolkien and Lewis used fantasy as an alternative to the abstruse landscape of literary modernism. They wanted to tell big stories through simple means. Likewise, Eisley tries this approach amidst a musical culture that's similarly detached. Hinging on allegorical storytelling like its literary influences, the band—not much older than children—works through fairy-tale imagery like gumdrops and even dragons without being childish at all. Time will tell if they succeed.