Jess Larrabee and Andy LaPlant return on July 18 with album number three – the commandingly titled Dig On. After the well-received 2009 Names Records reissue of their self-released Nests, the duo took themselves out of their noisy native Brooklyn to spend a few weeks in winter recording in a secluded cabin in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, “surrounded by trees, stars and silence” as they poetically put it. The resulting album is more of a consolidation of their bluesy sound than any step-change in direction. But that’s no bad thing when the sound in question is such appealingly stripped-down and smouldering, intense yet unshowy rock.
Here’s our track-by-track preview:
The first of several planet-themed song titles, the album opens with this slow blues number. Larrabee’s vocal is at its sultry best, but sounds as woozy with anger as it is with lust as she sings of the heat and her rage. With a trippy spiralling-down ending, it recalls a kind of female-fronted psych-rock version of a Led Zeppelin track.
‘Found You Out’
Continuing the psychedelic feel (created simply by Larrabee’s guitar sound), the vocal here is grave and quite deep; the pace stately. The track sounds rather sombre, nicely lo-fi and unproduced, as if it had been recorded ‘as live’ or just in one take. The subject matter – a cheating lover caught out – is dealt with more with regret than fury, Larrabee promising at one point “I’m not breaking your balls”.
Perhaps influenced by the rural surroundings in which the album was recorded, the duo here sing of the “dead leaves (…) dead trees” that surround the protagonist, who was “once a farmer”. The pace here is jauntier, despite the gloomy words. This is a track that arrives, says what it needs to say, then leaves, with nothing extraneous, ornamental, or surplus to requirements.
A lovely gentle, tapping, percussive opening is joined by the simplicity of the bluesy electric guitar, with the mood becoming more anguished as the song gets louder in the second half. Larrabee’s always-impressive singing here comes closest to a wail or howl of pain, and there is a slight, troubling dissonance in the repeated riff which reflects the nihilism of the words (“Not worth it to stick around”, “Watch the misery spread”, etc).
The vocal here is particularly expressive, and sounds like an audio equivalent of the lyric “while you roll your eyes”. Tuneful, deep and almost drawling in places, again this is a track endowed with cynicism and negativity, repeatedly warning the eponymous “sister” to be on her guard.
‘Make You My Moon’
More planetary references appear on this track, which oozes a repressed or suspenseful lust that is somehow reflected in the repeated false stops and starts. Even the guitars are a fuzzy blur of desire, as the vocal reaches higher notes on the “ooh-ooh” bits than the deeper timbre used when words are sung. The standout track.
‘All Or None / Dark Horse’
The first few lines here are simply Larrabee’s voice, unaccompanied, really showcasing its power and grave beauty. Even when the accompaniment kicks in the song stays sparse, at intervals deploying bits of percussion and a few bassy synth notes. The repeated line of “none, none, none” is punctuated by a drum beat on each utterance of the word, before the mood darkens for the second half. The song becomes more rhythmic and sinister, eventually ending to loud martial- or tribal-style drums.
The third featured planet of the album is Jupiter. This track sounds full of a kind of regret, or held-back anger, and doesn’t quite seem to let itself go, despite “how dare you” exclamations, tapering off to an underplayed ending.
‘Blind To The Cup’
A great, deep bassline dominates here, the riff coming in just behind the beat in a nicely disturbing manner. There’s a whisper of a low stringed accompaniment at points, all combining to make this another one of the album’s best tracks. The ending declaration – “Blind to the cup I’m sipping from” – comes over like a punchline.
This is the band’s forthcoming single, and is one of the most uptempo tracks on the album. The sound here is big and expansive, and the beat flips back and forth between two different time signatures. One of the busiest tracks with lots going on, it sounds likely to be a grower on repeated listens.
‘Calm Walk In The Dark’
Stripping things right back again, this is another slow sparse number. The vocal is a regretful croon, the sound is very bluesy; all slide guitar and sharp, sudden jerky silences. The track ends on an amorphous fog of noise punctuated by random squiggles.
The album’s closing track is its most stripped-down moment. Featuring just a rhythmic, gentle ‘pow’ of a drum beat, the vocal, and a little cymbal, this draws things to a conclusion that’s dramatic and intense despite its relative quietness. A memorable ending.
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Dig On is released through Names Records on July 18. Pre-order here.
She Keeps Bees play the following UK dates this summer:
22.06.11 Dalston Roof Park, London
23.06.11 The Eden Project, Cornwall *
10.07.11 Cloudspotting Festival, Lancashire
12.07.11 Seamans Mission, Liverpool
13.07.11 Festival Square Chapel, Halifax
21.07.11 The Borderline, London
05.08.11 Big Chill Festival, Eastnor Castle
20.08.11 Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park
27.08.11 Festibelly, Lymington
* supporting Primal Scream
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