When She Keeps Bees talk about independence, they’re not flipping off the modern day scene; they’re shaking their heads at America’s very beginnings. During their tour through middle America in 2012, the Brooklyn-based blues rock duo were caught off guard by the history America failed to teach them, namely the extent of the American Indians’ forced assimilation. Now, singer-guitarist Jessica Larrabee and drummer Andy LaPlant are fighting against Western civilization to subtly give the indigenous people their voice back, as well as their own.
Eight Houses lets the two turn troubled hostility into an eerie threat, their blues rock digging deeper into folk for a warning that boils over with weariness for their ancestors. No track does this with as steady a heartbeat as “Greasy Grass”. A pulsating bass drum vibrates as Larrabee sings, “Took their horses/ Took their guns/ Took the black hills,” before letting her voice waver like Feist with repetitions of “Take the red road back.” In mere seconds, her guitar fuzz builds until the song sounds like a Patti Smith B-side.
While Eight Houses sees She Keeps Bees moving deeper into the roots of folk rather than blues, Larrabee is clawing farther into soul. Her voice rips from deep within her lungs on “Breezy”, filling the room with the unflinching power of Florence Welch or Torres. Just as her self-taught vocal lessons screwed a hinge into the style, it’s the raw warmth and menacing emotion Larrabee nails to each word that makes her lines pound with aggression.
The connection between Larrabee and LaPlant has never been in question, but now they’ve grown even closer since LaPlant surrendered his dual role as producer to Nicolas Vernhes (Spoon, Dirty Projectors, Deerhunter). Vernhes tightens Eight Houses so it can only hold a few gritty blues tracks — namely the Swans-esque quivering of “Both Sides” — to help sweep the remains of broken identity into light.
From start to finish, the record stirs with hazy horns and an obsession with elusiveness. Give it time. The band’s similarities to Cat Power will ripple slowly in the silence of closer “Is What It Is”, bringing it to a wholesome wrap. “You are worthy/ I am worthy,” Larrabee sings beside guest vocalist Sharon Van Etten. “Be not completely consumed/ Do not surrender.” Their smoky voices end the album with the soft kiss of death. After all, She Keeps Bees spend half an hour seducing listeners until they remember they’re sitting in the carved grave of those who lost their independence centuries ago.
Essential Tracks: “Breezy”, “Both Sides”, and “Greasy Grass”