Jess Larrabee, the female half of She Keeps Bees, is a fighter. She's bare-knuckled — nicked and scraped and scarred, and all the wiser for it. But wisdom has not calmed her, has not quelled the explosive energy that makes her lash out before she remembers to pull back, play it safe, keep it close, not make any sudden movements. She is more aware of her faults than we could ever be. You can never hurt her more than she can hurt herself. Sticks and stones might break my bones but my words will always hurt me.
That's the sorrow, the pregnant potential for emotional violence, that dots Nests, an absolutely astonishing album from Larrabee and drummer Andy LaPlante. Even the band name — a seemingly senseless, "well, it sounds nice" kinda name — speaks to this weird dynamic: whenever I read the name I picture an old, half-crazed Southern woman storing a beehive in an old hat box, her left hand calmly battling the vibrating lid to keep it closed, her right laconically dragging on a cigarette.
All of this sounds silly and a bit overwrought, but if you spend any amount of time with Nests, I have to think you'll come to similar conclusions. The music is so uncomfortably naked and raw that it begs cheap psychoanalysis — you feel like you know Jess, much the same way that those early, fragile Cat Power records offered what felt like a window into what it was to be Chan Marshall. And yeah, that namecheck was intentional, as She Keeps Bees and Cat Power definitely share some traits in mood and means to achieve that mood, but to pin Bees as some Jeannie Come Lately would 1000% miss the point. The emotions and motivations that drive Nests aren't mimicry, nor can they themselves be mimicked. This is the work of Jess Larrabee and Andy LaPlante. Period.
The album opens a capella: "Don't follow me honey/ Not the road you want to be on." Then hand claps, a slight blues beat, Larrabee's voice moving hard into the red, reaching deep for a little yelp. Little bits latch on over its two minutes, following along on the unexpected rhythm shift, the melody getting bluesier, harder every second, and then it ushers us into "Wear Red," and holy shit she isn't fooling around. It's meaty, defiant, a big dick-swinging kind of song. You know, the White Stripes if they had heart.
In terms of other places to start, it's hard to say, because swear to God every song is great. But definitely "Gimmie" — a She Keeps Bees thesis statement if there ever was one — and "My Last Nerve," another efficient distillation of what we love about this band and this woman. "I'm your punisher/ I'm your punisher/ I've got some nerve/ I've got some nerve/ Yeah, I've got some nerve," but not bragging — challenging, eye-to-eye. And, after about 50 listens, I don't think she's singing at one enemy, ex, lover or betrayer. No, I'm fairly certain that she's singing at all of those at once: herself.