Debris, the debut album by actor-turned-avant-garde songwriter and performance artist Keeley Forsyth, left quite an impression upon its release in early 2020. Skeletal, bleak, yet frequently transcendent in its cold, rugged beauty, it was the kind of record that sounds like little else before it, and which you then can’t imagine living without having heard it. Quite how one does justice to such a remarkable opening statement with a follow-up album is a mystery to me; but somehow, with Limbs, Forsyth has pulled it off.
Sonically, Limbs builds upon the most expansive moments of Debris and the subsequent Photograph EP – the beacon-like synths of the first album’s lead single ‘Start Again’ clearing a path for more innovation here – with arrangements that are somehow richer and equally sparse at the same time. These songs curl and shrug their way through loose, hanging structures, atop which Forsyth’s grieving siren of a voice flutters and twists; you can almost see her face contorting with emotion at each movement.
The name that gets bandied about most frequently in relation to Forsyth’s distinctive sonic palette is Scott Walker, and his influence is certainty detectable here, both in the shivering vibrato of her vocal and in a more holistic, affective sense; like Walker, Forsyth sounds unafraid to grasp the conventions of modern pop songwriting and turn them inside out, pushing the boundaries of her sound without entirely losing focus of the need to produce empathy and exhilaration in her listener. It’s an incredibly precise balance, and one which very few artists are able to strike.
Tracks like ‘Fires’ and ‘Bring Me Water’ are wounded, regretful and profoundly moving; later cuts like ‘Wash’ and ‘Silence’ feel more defiant in their austerity. All this is deepened by the clean, elegant production of Ross Downes and Forsyth herself, with Francine Perry’s unobtrusive mix providing the necessary space for these songs to breathe and stretch as they please. Appropriately, the album ends with a song called ‘I Stand Alone’, which Forsyth really does – nobody else is making music, so spectral, elegant and bruised, quite like this.