since their inception in 2006, she keeps bees has adhered to a simple but strict instrumentation: jessica larrabee plays guitar and sings while andy laplant plays drums. on their first three albums, there wasn’t any need to deviate from this structure. larrabee is an incredibly capable guitarist, just as adept at drawing emotions from an acoustic, finger-picked line as she is at punishing chords on an electric, and her soothing alto timbre is an instrument of equal prominence and significance. laplant learned how to play drums under larrabee’s tutelage, adding the rudimentary skill to his production and engineering duties. their songs were short, often unassumingly poignant (see “wear red” from 2008’s nest), and it was a formula that worked exceptionally well for the washington, d.c. duo. but formulas run the risk of becoming redundant, something larrabee and laplant evidently realized; their newest album, eight houses, is the most timbrally rich and explorative journey the duo has ever undertaken.
the piano that creeps in midway through album-opener “feather lighter” is the first red-flag indicator of the duo thickening their sound, but the song feels especially refined from its first note, with crystal clear production and a slow vibrato on larrabee’s guitar to increase its depth. other flourishes pop up throughout eight houses, like the slow,ascending horn lines on “owl” and the doubled, fluttering guitar work on “wasichu.” do all of these additives suddenly make she keeps bees a markedly better band? not necessarily. but they absolutely do enhance the album’s listening experience and prove that the duo is by no means stubbornly set in their minimalistic ways.
sharon van etten’s cosign of she keeps bees and her guest appearances on eight houses certainly bolstered the amount of buzz generated for this album, but her presence doesn’t seem to compromise or shift the duo’s musical direction. seething, gritty blues-based songs like “both sides” and “raven” still exist in prominence, with larrabee effortlessly exchanging guitar riffs between two different personas and laplant pounding his kit with more fervor and confidence than previously displayed. what does seem to have changed is the length of the band’s songs (roughly three minutes on average as opposed to two), and, in turn, their conception of songwriting and approach to structure. ideas feel more fully formed and resolved, and eight houses finds larrabee noticeably stepping out of her comfort zone to perform two successive, poignant cuts, “burning bowl” and “radiance,” on piano instead of guitar.
despite subtle shifts in instrumentation and new, notable layers in many of their songs, she keeps bees largely stays true to their original premise. it’s a simple one that retains a sense of timelessness in an ever-changing climate, and its additives do nothing but enhance and advance its potential. with eight houses, she keeps bees has notched another victory in their belt, setting the stage for more promising things to come.