I love Christmastime. The cheer, the spirit of giving, the decorations, the friends and family. I also love Christmas music, but I feel like there’s a big disparity in quality between old and new Christmas tunes. Let’s be real, most of the Christmas records that get released today (and even throughout the past couple of decades, honestly) are pretty bad. New songs don’t have the same magic and most covers feel forced or uninspired. Name the first few Christmas songs that pop into your head and I bet not one of them was released since the ’80s. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions (and there’s always that obligatory, pretty cool one Christmas song that your favorite band released that one time), and of course I can’t overlook the prolific Christmas output from the likes of artists like Sufjan Stevens, but those are the exception more than the rule. With that notion established, my interest in new Christmas records is usually pretty slim and my expectations low. So, of course, when I see a band I sincerely love release Christmas music quietly and on their own, clearly not out of gimmick or obligation, I become cautiously optimistic that it could hold its own against the Christmas classics we so automatically flock towards.
You might already be familiar with Eisley, the fantastically talented indie rock/pop band hailing from Tyler, Texas, but if you’re only a casual fan or just familiar with their music in passing, you might not realize just how large the Eisley musical (and actual) family really extends. The group itself is comprised of four siblings and a cousin, several of whom have spouses in bands you’ve probably heard of (MuteMath, Say Anything). Their immediate family extends beyond the members of Eisley as well, with the younger DuPree siblings performing as a duo in Merriment. With such an immensely talented group of individuals, it should come as no surprise that crossover projects exist between spouses and significant others as well. Sherri DuPree Bemis (of Eisely) and husband Max Bemis (of Say Anything) have a side project called Perma. Stacey King (of Eisely) and husband Darrin King (of MuteMath) are 2/3 of the band Sucre. Younger sibling Christie DuPree (of Merriment) and boyfriend Reed Murray (of Carrollhood) also perform together, though not as an official side project. I’ve actually had the pleasure of personally touring with Eisley and much of their extended musical family and I can honestly attest to the fact that they are some of the most sincerely talented and immensely nice individuals I’ve ever encountered. But I digress, back to Christmas.
The title track from Eisley’s 2011 release ‘The Valley’:
For the third year in a row, Eisley and family have recorded and self-released an EP of Christmas music online for free. It’s all covers, or, rather, arrangements of classics but done in a unique and tasteful way that fully gives the tracks a fresh and relevant aesthetic. The 2010 & 2011 tracks are still available as well (and are also cover arrangements, save for one Sherri and Max-penned, Tim Burton-esque track called “White Christmas Nightmare”), and between the three, the songs span in output just about every Eisley-related project there is. In contrast to their typically more fleshed-out and layered releases, the music on the Eisley Family Christmas is more understated and stripped down. As a result, the songs have so much room to breathe in a really beautiful and magical way. On showcase is the tremendous vocal talent and ear for arrangement of everyone involved, and the result is one of the most engaging, refreshing Christmas releases of the past several decades. It’s familiar, yet it still feels new. It’s full of songs you know, played in a way you’d rather listen to in place of the classic versions you grew up with. It’s a talented band and their talented families celebrating a holiday that is so important to them, and in doing so giving us all another reason to love Christmastime. Eisley’s 2012 and 2010-2011 EPs are all available right here for free, so there’s no reason not to check them out and spread a little bit of holiday cheer!
You can preview one of Merriment’s contributions below: