[sic] Magazine

She Keeps Bees – Eight Houses

It’s pure coincidence that Sharon Van Etten and She Keeps Bees find themselves neighbours in this reviewer’s music library. All the same the two do make for star-crossed bedfellows and it’s no surprise to find Van Etten contributing backing vocals on two tracks here. She’s unobtrusive in practice, allowing Jessica Larrabee the centre stage she deserves, but her presence lends a certain smoky classiness to proceedings nevertheless. The mesmeric chord progressions and soulful sax during the single “Owl” in particular suck you in just as the recent Van Etten LPs did.

In general though, Larrabee and drummer Andy LaPlant’s fourth LP, Eight Houses, follows a familiar set-up. That said, the minimal blues-rock duo are folkier now. Tracks like the standout “Greasy Grass”, for example, chart General Custer’s last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn through an ever-intensifying stomp, part Patti Smith and part PJ Harvey. The album also sees the pair reaching further afield for their instrumentation (horns, synth and organ), but all it takes is a menacing bass-line like the one on “Both Sides” to remind you this is business as normal, those comparisons to The Kills still hard to shake.

There’s a sting in the tail however – a real eureka moment during Eight Houses’ lush finale. During the grungy “Raven” producer Nicolas Vernhes pushes Larrabee’s impassioned quiver to the front of the mix, allowing the track to erupt with pedal-driven distortion behind her, her vocal turning into a rich yell just to be heard. And, just before this is the insta-classic “Wasichu”, its pindrop blues shuffle and ghostly backing absolutely magnetic. Then there’s “Radiance” – one of those starburst moments that hangs in the air magically, its barebones percussion and synth pattern held together by Larrabee’s web of piano bars. With this strong run Larrabee and LaPlant lay down a marker. Cat Power, etc. The ball’s back in your court.

Best tracks: “Greasy Grass” and “Raven”.

~Eight Houses is released September 29th on BB*Island.~