Review of Eight Houses by She Keeps Bees

She Keeps Bees is a duo from Brookyln, NY. The vocalist and guitarist is Jessica Larrabee. Andy LaPlant joins her on drums. Larrabee started out as a solo artist, but met LaPlante while bartending in 2006 and asked him if he was interested in collaboration. Since then, the two have been knocking out albums — 7 to be exact.

Larrabee, originally from DC, has been playing instruments since she was 15. Her favorite instrument, however, is her voice. She claims to “sing until her stomach hurts.”

I am really into the cover of this album. It features a sepia-toned image of an adolescent girl (seemingly 1960’s era) blowing bubble gum. The tone of the cover seems to fit with the musical tone, stylistically at least. They are both a bit old-fashioned and captivating.

Eight Houses is a folk/blues combo, more on the soulful side. Most songs are filled with minimalistic but consistent guitar riffs and some light drumming. Some of the songs don’t appear to have any guitar at all. The mood is a little bit ghostly at times and overall pretty gritty. It’s not necessarily dark, but definitely not light and cheery in sound nor subject matter.

Many of the songs are about the oppression of indigenous people. “Wasichu” starts with “made you cut your hair, cover your body, sit like a dog.” This is probably the most explicit example of lyrical theme across the whole album.

The album is texturally simple, with only two instruments at most present at a time and only one vocalist. No synths are used, just pure, raw sound. The starkness of the album does not equate to blandness. It is mainly Larrabees’ powerful vocals that keep the album engaging and interesting. Her contrast between strong and soft is sure to keep listeners on their toes. Her voice is low and smoky and always filled with fervor.

The album is relatively short and generally pretty slow. Some pick up midway through, but all start at a leisurely pace. This same pattern holds true for “hards” and “softs” throughout each song. For the most part, intensity increases with speed and backs down in the same way. In the album itself, there is some subtle variation between song tempos and intensities. Most songs are subdued but some get into a livelier (yet still somber) realm.

The album flows nicely, with heavy and lighter songs alternating (I assume so as to not overwhelm the listener). The songs mesh well, but definitely have their distinctive qualities. They don’t all seem to blend together, a rarity among many artists, but they also aren’t drastically different. The album layout makes sense and the thematic content ties it together.

I appreciate the band’s simplicity. It allows me to enjoy their instrumentation and moving lyrics even more than I would otherwise. My favorite track is Owl, which features Sharon Van Etten on vocals. The guitar intro caught my attention the first time I heard it. I also love the brass that is thrown in there. It is unexpected but fits so perfectly. I like the beating grunge of the album, but this jazzier piece provides nice contrast.

I really love this album right now and have already started listening to the band’s prior music as well. I am biased towards female vocalists to begin with, and Larrabee’s apparent passion and grit make me love the band that much more. I look forward to where they go on from here.