Review Summary: Eisley are just as whimsical as ever, but don't lower your expectations just yet.
On my first listen to I'm Only Dreaming, it is immediately apparent that there is an emotional sincerity here on this record that is absolutely captivating. It's an album about vocalist Sherri DuPree's love for her husband and her children, but it never feels boring or overwrought. It sounds as comforting as the relationships DuPree sings about so beautifully throughout the record's twelve tracks. DuPree gives her best vocal performance yet, dipping into a lower register on Louder Than A Lion, among others. Mixed with producer Will Yipp's dreamy production style, the band sounds almost other worldly. Not to mention like a band at the top of their game.
On previous outings the songwriting was shared between the three DuPree sisters, which worked absolutely fine - but listening to I'm Only Dreaming it is easy to see the benefit of Sherri finally shouldering nearly all of the writing. This record feels much tighter thematically, with less disparity between each song. As a fan, I was very interested in seeing how Sherri becoming the sole vocalist would play out - but she pulls it off with aplomb, so well in fact that long time fans may not even miss hearing Stacy and Chauntelle taking the vocal reins. The harmonies between the three sisters were always a focal point on previous albums, but Sherri pulls off plenty of gorgeous harmonies all on her own here. Sherri sounds absolutely in her element on this album, as if fronting the band on her own was always the way it was supposed to be.
DuPree has declared her love for bands like Sunny Day Real Estate in the past, and the influence is very apparent here. Songs like Always Wrong, Song For The Birds and When You Fall all hit harder than previous Eisley records. These songs effortlessly mix 90's pop punk, indie and expertly written pop together. When You Fall even has an almost California surf, Best Coast feel to it. A guest appearance from DuPree's husband, Say Anything vocalist Max Bemis, on Song For The Birds feels very fitting as the band power through some of their most pop punk songs on this record - without ever feeling dated.
However, the band do step into some new territory on songs such as Louder Than A Lion and Sparking, with synths and drum machines holding these songs up. Eisley have played around with keyboards and synths before, but never like this. It's a welcome change for a band that has seemed resistant to change in the past. Don't get me wrong, this album is not a massive departure from the classic Eisley sound - they are still as whimsical as ever - but there is enough growth and heart here to possibly make it the best album Eisley has ever put out.