When I first heard the R&B bumps at the beginning of the song, “Ribbon,” I not only knew I’d be buying the entire Nests album, but I knew I’d be reviewing it. So the hardest part of this review wasn’t the decision to write, it was the decision whether to consider this one of the best albums of 2009 so far. Why was that decision hard? Because I think it was released in August of ’08, even though it appears only to have gotten wide release this year. So, I’m going for it:
Nests, by She Keeps Bees is one of the best releases of 2009.
So who is she, and who are the bees? She is vocalist/guitar player Jessica Larrabee. The Bees is drummer/boypal Andy LaPlant. That’s it. Yeah, it’s a boy/girl guitar/drum duet. But it’s not hard edged or crunchbluesy. There’s some of that, for sure, like on the crisp and clear “Ribbon” and the country-tinged “Wear Red,” but the difference here is that the roles are reversed. The song that in Jack White’s voice is muscular and desperate becomes sultry and dominate when Ms. Larrabee wraps her throat around it. Imagine “Got Some Nerve” sung with pain instead of heat, and you’ve got what White (or The Black Keys, for that matter) would do with the same tune.
But I don’t want to spend a lot of time comparing this extraordinary duo to The White Stripes. I actually like this band more. A lot more. And if you hear “Release,” you’ll see why.
I’ve only heard parts of the band’s first album, Minisink Hotel, and I liked it, but wasn’t a huge fan. On this one, the duo has found its way. Big time. The songs are tighter and Ms. Larrabee seems more comfortable taking vocal tracks up and down and back again, something she does often. She’s like the entire Pixies band, with just her voice. But part of the power of Nests is also the production. When you’re dealing with this kind of simplicity—a guitar and a drum set—there’s a temptation to add effects or otherwise “improve” the product to make it sound bigger. But there’s absolutely no need for that when it comes to Ms. Larrabee–her voice fills the room with power and soul (check out the “oooh-oooh-WA-hooo” on “Gimme” for a great example of this). The mike is open and kept clean of nonsense, so we can sit back and be astounded.
The only flaw in Nests, and it is a big flaw, is that it is only 26 minutes. It’s rare that I finish an album wanting more these days, since most are overstuffed, but in this case I was left feeling hungry as hell. And grateful.
For fans of: Bonnie Raitt, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Heartless Bastards, and, yes, The White Stripes.