Sure, there are urban farmers in New York City keeping actual bees, but there are also some bluesy indie rock stars keeping bees by way of music. Jessica Larrabee has just the sound that keeps listeners buzzing and, yes, her voice is as sweet as honey. On her fourth album, Eight Houses, Larrabee strips down to its basics—voice, guitar, drum kit—for a spare, yet fully realized album and a fine introduction to a fine band.
Formed in 2006, with Larrabee on vocals and guitar and Adam LaPlant on drums, She Keeps Bees’ first album was Minisink Hotel. They were immediately compared to the likes of such heavyweights as Cat Power, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. The Guardian said, “They’re like the White Stripes in reverse.” Critically acclaimed Nests came out in 2008, followed by 2011’s Dig In.
Returning to their folk roots, Eight Houses feels like the party after the party. After the loud raucousness and when everyone goes home, there’s the silence. This is Larrabe and LaPlant’s music. Everything clean, everything put away, let’s sit a drink a much deserved beer. There are fire flies. There are lights strung between trees. There’s She Keeps Bees keeping you company. Singer Sharon Van Etten once said that Larrabee “has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.” The Cat Power comparison is solid, but Larrabee more closely resembles Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. She’s got quiet vehemence. She’s got solid vocal range. She’s got soul.
With producer Nicolas Vernhes (Spoon, Dirty Projectors, Deerhunter) Eight Houses starts off with “Feather Lighter” that lays down the feel for the whole album: quiet, thoughtful, introspective and straight forward. “I offer the world,” Larrabee starts. And she does with the remaining tracks. “Owl” has the pluck of a guitar, a simple beat, a Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter-vibe, before some sax lines play behind her, powering up the whole song. “Raven,” the longest track on the album, is also one of its best. It sways mightily between soft vocals before blasting into a windstorm of sound, enough to shake the leaves of trees. Enough to drop nests out of trees, the bees inside roaring out looking for a new home.