Released way back on the 17thJanuary, Keeley Forsyth’s Debris was the first album I fell in love with (but not the last) in this crazy year.
What a back story. For years, whilst occupying herself in many acting roles in TV staples such as Casualty, The Bill and Coronation Street, Forsyth was quietly, solitarily working away writing music. One evening, whilst sitting at home listening to the radio, she encountered the work of pianist and composer Matthew Bourne. Something clicked. As Forsyth describes on her Bandcamp page, “I heard his music and suddenly I could hear them both together”.
Forsyth reached out to Bourne and the seeds of Debris were sown. The finished product is quite something. With its sense of minimalism, those candid, haunting lyrics and that incredible voice – where every breath and nuance is captured forensically – Debris is unquestionably one of the albums of 2020.
At only twenty-seven minutes, Debris must be the shortest album on my Music Advent for 2020. But, hey, size doesn’t matter. Every one of those minutes, covering eight songs, counts. There is, quite simply, not one bum moment. As such, it’s a challenge to pick out highlights.
Title track, Debris, opens up proceedings and sets the tone. In those first few minutes, it is evident that none of the tracks on this album will be featuring on any ‘Now’ compilations anytime soon. The very first line informs us that “the streets are filled with debris“. The mood is mournful and sombre, Bourne’s harmonium bringing an almost funereal feel.
Immediately we are struck by that unique voice. Forsyth’s vocal is unlike the other female singers on this Music Advent. It doesn’t have Netta Goldhirsch’s astonishing range, nor is it as soft and melodic as Agnes Obel’s. Instead, we find ourselves hearing something that feels like it is physically pushing its way out of its owner’s skeleton, forcing itself into the light. The timbre is deep and resonant. It is visceral and primordial, yet at the same time, fragile and delicate.
The old English folk of Black Bull is enthralling. Look To Yourself, built upon beautifully picked notes is outstanding. It’s like watching the leaves fall from the cherry blossoms in spring.
Forsyth saves the very best for last, however. Album closer, Start Again, has a glacial, atmospheric vibe. Perhaps fittingly, given its title, it feels like the most upbeat and positive track on Debris.
So, there we have it. Debris is an album very close to my heart for two reasons. Firstly, the quality is quite remarkable and, as such, it has few peers in 2020. Secondly, for some irrational reason, I always have a strong affinity with the first great release of the year. In 2020 that honour fell to Keeley Forsyth and Debris.