Gabrielle Herbst’s (aka GABI) debut album Sympathy was - in many respects - an exploration of the emotive power of the voice. On tracks like ‘Mud’ and ‘Koo Koo’ Herbst said as much with vocal flourishes as she did with words themselves. Three years have passed since the release of Sympathy, and GABI has returned with Empty Me, an album that’s as much a contrast to, as an evolution of, her debut.

Empty Me opens with ‘Ahhh’, a slow, wordlesss piece that sets the thematic template for the rest of the record. Herbst’s vocals have this moving sweetness to them that, paired with the soft piano that features heavily at the start of the track, convey a sense of hope. As the song progresses we get some subtle strings and a harp that provides a hint at the grander sound of this record. Compare this to ‘Koo Koo’ which opens Sympathy. There Herbst’s vocals spoke of a desperate longing, whilst the vibraphone and subtle bass added a cold, almost alien tone to the track. Her debut often felt like a record created in isolation. Its vocal loops echoed Herbst’s voice back at her. Empty Me is - in comparison - much brighter with light flourishes, delicate arrangements, and an overall optimism present throughout.

This change in tone is likely a result of the more collaborative and open approach Herbst took to writing and recording this album. Whilst some of the songs that form Empty Me started life as compositions for piano and vocals, it wasn’t until Herbst began to work with Marilu Donocan and Mara Mayer to create arrangements for harp and bass clarinet respectively that the songs truly began to take shape. The album is still very much Herbst’s creation, but she admits that the musicians she worked with all put their own little stamp on the record. As a result we get the triumphant horns of ‘Wild Sunflowers’, the ethereal synthesizer of ‘Breath’, and the beautiful, playful flute of - well - ‘Flute’.

In addition to the musical evolution, Empty Me is also a far more direct record in its lyrics. Tracks like ‘Whole With You’, which features a hushed vocal performance from Herbst during the verses, allow for more personal, relatable stories to be told. Herbst's vocal transitions from a whisper to an emotive exaltation as she details the sense of completeness she sought in someone else. The brief a capella before the chorus instrumentation kicks in feels almost devotional in its delivery. There’s still room for interpretation however, as Herbst sings that she “wanted to be whole with you,” the use of past tense suggesting a love turned sour, or maybe even unrequited.

It is worth noting that this doesn’t mean that GABI has dropped what made her debut special. ‘Boom Boom Kiki’ most clearly harkens back to the vocal loops and construction of tracks like ‘Koo Koo’, as well as the opening and closing moments of ‘Falling’. Meanwhile the weightless ambience of ‘Let’s Not Exist’ and ‘Until The End’ recall Sympathy‘s quieter, wordless moments. So whilst it could be argued that Empty Me is a more accessible record, due to a greater focus on pop music structures, it doesn’t mean that it is any less inventive or surprising. The transition from Sympathy to Empty Me feels akin to the one made by Julia Holter between Ekstasis and Loud City Song. Empty Me marks a significant step forward for GABI and sets forth a more personal approach to composition that is as emotional affecting as it is engaging.