Andy Von Pip
, May 5th, 2015 10:32
In 2013, whilst still at university, singer/songwriter Mackenzie Scott self-released a remarkably accomplished debut album under the musical moniker of Torres. It heralded the arrival of a compelling and complex new talent, who at just twenty-two years old possessed the sort of poetic insight and emotional intelligence that belied her years.
Of course, in the wake of universal critical approbation there often comes a certain weight of expectation. After all, when you're unknown there's no external pressure, no social media campaigns or public image to manage. This allows you free reign to experiment without distraction and direct all your creative energies into the task in hand. In the fickle world of hype and blog buzz one misstep can see the momentum and goodwill you've built-up quickly evaporate. You may also have to contend with the old adage that you have your whole life experience to draw upon when composing your first record and then a year at best to produce the follow-up. This is a concept not lost on Torres, but rather than buying into apocryphal tales of the so called "sophomore slump", she has spoken of finding a certain degree of liberation in working to tighter timescales. Indeed these boundaries appear to have enabled her to make intuitive decisions, to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff and drill down to the things that really matter.
That clarity of focus is apparent on Torres' quite wonderful second album Sprinter which sees Scott embrace a fuller more expansive sound in comparison to the minimalist, unsettling claustrophobic beauty of her debut. This sonic leap forward in no way lessens the impact or the intimacy, nor does it diminish her warmth or authenticity, in fact, the effect is quite the opposite as Sprinter is the sound of an artist stepping out of the DIY shadows empowered and emboldened.
Despite the raw honesty of her debut album, there was a suspicion that Torres was slightly restrained in terms of her vocal performance, that she was perhaps holding something back. There are no such concerns on Sprinter, and album opener 'Strange Hellos' quickly banishes any notion that Torres is an artist happy to remain in her artistic comfort zone. It begins quietly almost as if the soft opening lines are acting as a bridge between both albums, before she pulls the rug from under the listener's feet as the song explodes into life. It's a tune bursting with seething anger and smouldering animus, addressing the thorny issue of loving somebody but being unable to forgive their actions. Torres speculates about the prospect of their paths crossing at an unspecified future date - hence the refrain "Strange hellos are not my bag", before snarling with a wounded intensity to rival Kurt Cobain - "I was all for being real/But if I don't believe, then no one will/What's mine isn't really yours/But I hope you find what you're looking for."
'New Skin' addresses themes that are embedded within the album's DNA, - insecurity, transformation, purification and chasing the darkness away. The disturbing 'Son, You're Not A Man Yet' has the eerie atmosphere of Kate Bush's 'Waking The Witch', whilst the dazzling 'A Proper Polish Welcome' mixes mythology and religious imagery with the purgative symbolism of the ocean which is in this instance, cast as "a floating saviour."
The album's production is perfectly judged allowing Torres' haunting, expressive voice to lead the listener through a dark spectrum of emotions. She has an instinctive ability to take her experiences and convey atmosphere in a beautifully oblique poetic way rather than employing a straightforward narrative. It is a sombre collection of songs, which often radiate an apocalyptic aura of foreboding, but they are not totally bereft of optimism. The driving, exhilarating rush of title track 'Sprinter' explores the dichotomy of light and darkness, of saints and sinners and references amongst other things the redemption of Zacchaeus (Gospels: Luke 19:1) and a pastor who is jailed over pornography. It also suggests that given the choice Torres would leave the darkness behind - "If there's still time/I'll choose the sun/and I'll run it back/To everyone."
The symbolism in 'Ferris Wheel', is a wonderful example of Torres' intuitive ability to fashion perfectly judged objective correlatives, in this case the deserted Ferris wheel capturing the emptiness of unreciprocated infatuation: "My friends just laugh and roll their eyes/When I tell them I don't mind the way it feels/To ride an empty Ferris wheel."
Scott has said this is a cosmic record, but one that is still influenced by her southern roots. This is perhaps most evident on 'Cowboy Guilt', which mixes quirky futuristc electronica with the subtle yet distinct twang of country guitars. The album closes with the stark seven-minute plus epic 'The Exchange', an intimate and poignant tale in which Torres, who was adopted at birth, relates the experience of her adoptive mother's unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with the singer's birth mother.
Torres has previously spoken of certain themes cropping up in her writing, fear of isolation, of rejection of not being "good enough". Perhaps the release of Sprinter may assuage some of these anxieties. Of course, it's too early in her career to thrust the burden of greatness on her young shoulders, however if she continues to deliver such beautifully crafted, insightful work then it's perfectly conceivable to imagine a future in which she is mentioned in the same breath as Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, or Leonard Cohen.