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Keeley Forsyth - Limbs Music Album Reviews

Keeley Forsyth - Limbs Music Album Reviews
The English musician and actor’s second album places her spectacular vibrato front and center, shadowed by subtle but effective orchestration. Listening feels like a bracing walk through winter moorland.

Few records have so palpably captured the sense of a life in wreckage as Keeley Forsyth’s 2019 debut, Debris. Sifting through it, it was hard to glean exactly what caused this turmoil. But you got the broad shape of it: a trauma so vast it was paralyzing. The title of Forsyth’s second album, Limbs, feels similarly appropriate. Listening to it feels like watching a body slowly dig itself out from a pile of rubble. “Let me begin again,” she sings on “Bring Me Water,” first at a whisper, then at a cry.

If you’ve watched primetime television in the UK, you may not know Forsyth’s name, but you will probably recognize her face. A veteran actor from Oldham, Greater Manchester, she has appeared in drama and soaps (Happy Valley, Holby City, Waterloo Road), bringing to the screen a pale-eyed gaze that is both vulnerable and strangely penetrating. Forsyth says she has long made music in private. But it was the events documented on Debris, in tandem with a blossoming creative partnership with the pianist and composer Matthew Bourne, that prepared her songs for wider consumption. Her voice is a spectacular thing: a cut-glass vibrato that brings to mind ANOHNI, or the unearthly tremble of late-period Scott Walker. Limbs places her voice front and center, shadowed by subtle but effective orchestration from Bourne and new collaborator Ross Downes—a cluster of piano notes here, an icy sheet of synth or a slow rhythmic pulse there.

Limbs feels like a bracing walk through winter moorland: cold yet undeniably alive. Like Debris, it is often lyrically oblique, opening wide to emotion while remaining discreet about the details. Forsyth roots certain moments in the domesticity of parenthood. On “Wash,” a hollowed-out dub filled with fearful sounds from percussionist Evelyn Glennie, she sings words of threadbare comfort, keeping it together through a sense of duty to another. The presence of a baby banishes dark thoughts; somewhere nearby, a pan boils over.

But Limbs contrasts these glimpses of home and family life with more protean imagery. On the title track, she first sings, then recites words that set her body against the elements: “Skin becomes divorced from air/Gravitation becomes apparent/Nobody sees these limbs underwater.” She addresses the following “Land Animal” directly to another, tracing out the vague shape of something threatening; an intrusion. “A foreign element/Metaphor,” sings Forsyth, as synths wrap and twirl around her like smoke.

Forsyth’s grounding in the theatrical arts feeds directly into her music. There’s no sense of pretense on Limbs—quite the opposite. But her training seems to give her the command to channel difficult emotions with the steely composure of a ballet dancer. Talking of “Bring Me Water,” Forsyth mentioned the influence of Pina Bausch, the German dancer and choreographer whose dramatic, physical pieces drew their power from the raw material of trauma. You can hear that sense throughout Limbs; that drama of the everyday, accentuated into something carefully measured but utterly intense.

This is not a particularly warm record, so when a flicker of sentimentality creeps in, the effect is shocking. Debris ended with a glimmer of hope in the shape of “Start Again,” and Limbs does much the same. “Who will be my friend? As the day comes to a close,” she sings on “I Stand Alone” to a gentle wheeze of harmonium. It’s the one moment on the record where you feel she is inviting affection, treating love as something reciprocal. Throughout much of her music, we hear Forsyth grappling with what it is to be human. Here, for a minute, we hear her simply be.

Limbs is not always easy to untangle. In places, it feels like it is running on instinct, an enigma even to itself. It is short, just 26 minutes, and a few songs feel rather lean. “Blindfolded,” a procession of dislocated nature imagery, rests a little too heavily on the sharp contours of Forsyth’s voice. But she could sing a shopping list and make it emotionally resonant. If in places the album feels somewhat transitory—a sequel to Debris, rather than a new statement in its own right—it lands with a grace and power that’s hard to deny.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Keeley Forsyth - Limbs Music Album Reviews Keeley Forsyth - Limbs Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, March 03, 2022 Rating: 5

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