She Keeps Bees
32:42 min • BB*Island • Sep 29, 2014
Andrew Darley reviews
Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaBrant began making music together soon after Larrabee made a move from Philadelphia to Brooklyn. Their early rehearsals together were rough and ready; testing song ideas on makeshift instruments, including a garbage lid on top of a stepladder for percussion. Jessica believes now that their initial spontaneous approach to music helped them grow “like a tree. It felt powerful with him behind me. Nothing really clicked until I met Andy”. Since the birth of She Keeps Bees they have self-recorded and released three studio albums and have now created their most vindicated work yet.
As their fourth record, Eight Houses is executed with a definite, embracive tension. Its ten winding songs are distinguished by an air of comprised chaos, which ruptures in anguish from moments of silence. In describing the roots of the songs, they explain how they became fascinated by the injustices of the past in writing the record. The album parallels personal battles and historical events such as the forced assimilation of Native Americans in way that explores the sense of self and the emotions we feel we its threatened.
Opening on the smooth ‘Feather Lighter’, things start off quiet until Larrabee describes a growing tension (“gnashing at my teeth”) over a rickety piano line. Moving into the howling ‘Breeze’ the album gradually rouses its ominous air as she rages “they keep you like a ghost, waiting for the breeze”. Their sparse yet loaded compositions call to mind the momentum that Cat Power conjured on early albums, such as Myra Lee. Similar to that album, there’s an off-the-cuff quality to these songs, in which the duo create a maximum affect with minimal elements.
‘Greasy Grass’, which refers to controversial war hero status General George Armstrong Custer earned during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, moves on an earthy and powerful groove, as it stomps along in a nightmarish frenzy, urging to “take the red road back”. Whilst ‘Wasichu’ may be the song that captures the atmosphere of the album most succinctly. As Larrabee lists a litany of heinous acts (“Made you cut your hair, Cover your body, Sit like a dog”), its subdued texture of muffled horns and sleepy guitar translates the sensation of silencing ourselves under cruelty, with a burgeoning will to survive. Acknowledging the turmoil and bloodshed of the record, it closes out in an unexpected way. ‘Is What It Is’ resolves the unrest with the life-affirming message “I am worthy, You are worthy”, with feature vocals from Sharon Van Etten. It’s a sweetness after the storm.
She Keeps Bees’ fourth album is a refined, meditative record that unfurls in front of you. Its sprawling and sometimes unsettling themes of both individual and universal emotions invoke an honest reflection on the human condition. The focus of this album is its poeticism and the blues that carries them. Eight Houses is an exploration of the injustices in history and personal pain and uncertainty. Their airtight and soulful approach is a clear statement of who they are sonically and the strength of their songwriting.
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