She Keeps Bees’ stunning fourth album is both explosive and restrained.
The first time I saw She Keeps Bees live was at a Saturday night showcase at the end of a long CMJ week. I was tired, my feet hurt, I was coming down with an awful cold, and my phone was dead. I knew better than to force myself to stand next to my friends and inflict my gross mood on them, so I sat on a stool along the wall, charged my phone and enjoyed the music from afar. I did this until She Keeps Bees’ set, which was the sole reason I toughed out the long night. Two people — Jessica Larrabee on guitar and vocals and Andy LaPlant on drums — set up on the floor a few feet away from me with a small drum kit, guitar and mic. For that thirty minute set, my ears and mind were too mesmerized to remind my body it was ready to be in bed. I was blown away by their effortless presence; the way Larrabee would swiftly start songs by leaning into the mic and letting the words roll out; the room’s high energy feeding off these relatively restrained songs. She Keeps Bees set was the sigh of relief that it was all worth it.
Eight Houses, She Keeps Bees’ fourth album, on Future Gods, has more texture and instrumentation (including some backing vocals from Sharon Van Etten) than the live set, but it still holds on to all the compelling restraint and tension. “Breezy,” “Greasy Grass” and “Raven” are as explosive as it gets on Eight Houses, and even those tracks manage to wobble on a tightrope without ever falling off. Larrabee’s voice is truly special, and every tiny waver bursts a well of emotion, especially on “Waischu.” On Eight Houses, She Keeps Bees lets that tension and strength in the music push into the lyrics, as Larrabee constantly sends out challenges: “You’ll have to send a strong goddamn wind to get rid of me” on “Owl”. “Both Sides” stands out for shifting away from She Keeps Bees’ usual blues folk rock and riffs at something more noisy, contrasting with the quiet following track “Burning Bowl” that features only Larrabee’s voice and piano. The other sparse standout is the album closer. “It Is What It Is,” which is the sigh of relief at the end of a long, tiring night. The music is soft and full, as is Larrabee’s voice, though she pulls back on its power. What really hits you in your gut are the lyrics — the incredibly life-affirming lines, “You are worthy, I am worthy,” in particular. The stress I was holding in the pit of my stomach dissolved as those lines breathed over me.