Funny thing about family: You never really know the full sum of the role they play in your life until they’re gone. For Eisley, the family-centric Texas dream-pop band, that comparison extends to music as well. I’m Only Dreaming, the group’s fourth full-length album, is the first since the departure of guitarist Chauntelle D’Agostino and co-frontwoman/keyboardist Stacy King, both of whom had been with the band since the beginning. And while the new direction is dreamier, sweeter, and more consistent than past records, it’s a little too much of a piece: The music is accomplished, but the songs and production are incredibly repetitive, leading to an album that is pleasant enough to listen to, but not terribly memorable.
The Fleetwood Mac comparisons never fully fit the group, but now it makes almost no sense. Far more shoegaze Americana than the ’70s-influenced pop rock found on previous albums, I’m Only Dreaming dispenses with a variety of sounds and structures in favor of a single mood—yearning and wistful dreaminess—that it spreads across 11 tracks. Remaining singer Sherri Dupree-Bemis has a lovely, fragile voice, but not much range, and her vocal melodies tend to follow the same patterns time and again throughout the record, as do the lyrics. Nearly every song is a variant on “I love you, but you’re like this, and I’m like this, it’s sad but it’s wonderful,” with too many fumbling and easy allusions and metaphors to make it come alive. “I feel so sorry, I feel so sick, I’ve been trying to meet you but I wasn’t in the right place,” she sings on “My Best Friend,” like someone murmuring excuses for their behavior. Too often, that’s the impression left: Dupree-Bemis searching for lyrics and settling for conversation, or worse, generic wordplay (“You’re my everything, my sun, my moon, make me swoon”).
Musically, the songs flow into one another, creating an atmosphere of spacey gentility that occasionally rises above the homogeneity. “A Song For The Birds” stands out for its insistent, driving rhythm and propulsive melodies, a love song with a little kick to it. Similarly, “Rabbit Hole” breaks up the record with its quiet acoustic minimalism, conveying hope and hopelessness in equal measure. “Louder Than A Lion” may be the record’s best track, simply by dint of being the most distinctive. Kicking off with a jittery electronic skitter of drums, reminiscent of recent Metric, it soon launches into soaring “ahhs” and “ohs,” folding them into an almost chant-like vocal swirl, with insistent drums and an affected wash of instrumentation drifting into an echoey abyss.
But for every time the swoony simplicity of the music works with the underlying song, there’s a follow-up that falls back into platitudes and forgettable variations on the same musical themes. I’m Only Dreaming sounds like a band that, shorn of some of the formerly integral members, is scared of straying too far from the formula. It’s a pleasant record, but an awfully safe and unchallenging one. Now that the group has found a new sound, it’s time to let it go and take some risks.