words byDREW MALMUTH
TORRES, the debut album from 22-year-old Nashville native Mackenzie Scott, has a deceptively charming backstory. Scott's family pooled their money together to buy the Gibson guitar that is heard on the album. It was recorded live to tape over the course of five days in the home of a Louisiana songwriter. Scott herself is a bright-eyed, beautiful young woman that simply looks happy to have the opportunity to share her music. Given such a pleasant, unassuming foundation, it is a welcome surprise that the album itself is a raw and gripping exploration of our most basic human emotions. Over simple and often sparse arrangements, Scott unleashes her remarkably multi-faceted voice and lets the listener into the intimate moments of her life. She stands confused outside of a strangers house. A man ashes in his coffee. She looks down the face of a waterfall, wondering whether or not to jump. TORRES is a deeply personal record. However, through her stories of fear, heartbreak, inadequacy, and self-acceptance, Scott ultimately speaks to something universal.
The album opener, “Mother Earth, Father God,” with its languid strings set against distortion and solemn lyrics, quickly establishes TORRES's diverse range of influences. There are hints of Chan Marshall's raw recording style and emotional delivery, Joanna Newsom's lilting flourishes, Alela Diane's powerful and seductive vocal tone, and Julie Doiron's juxtaposition of acoustic and electric sounds. It's a song that portends an album filled with angst ridden americana, driving drum beats, and dark violin solos. However, the album that unfolds after the first track is far more adventurous than the first few minutes suggest. Scott finds her voice immediately and from there in makes bold instrumental decisions that surprise and enrapture, making for a gorgeous patchwork over which her stories are able to come to life.
“Honey” is the first in a series of three tracks that are stunning takes on the grief that can so often accompany infatuation. Scott couples her sparse and poignant imagery with arrangements that ooze tension like a broken sink, flailing and spraying but never quite ending up where you'd expect. On “Honey” she sings, “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee/ I was thinking about telling you what you'd done to me/ oh honey, pretending like it never happened/ come over here and let me put you back together.” This refrain is delivered softly at first but as the track begins to show its teeth Scott's voice becomes harsh and grizzled. The lyrics take on new meaning when wailed alongside a wall of throbbing noise. The song embodies the mental state that most of us find ourselves in far too often. We are trying to stay calm but there is a fierce cacophony of emotion trying to burst through our skin.
After “Honey,” the next track finds Scott embracing unrequited love; however, the song unfolds with a beautiful complexity as the listener is left wondering how truthful her words are. Scott sings, “Jealousy and I, we're two of a kind/ and she's all mine.” The latter part of the lyric is stretched out into a haunting quiver. With each repetition of “she's all mine,” Scott sounds intermittently comforted and on the verge of breaking into tears. She is able to expose herself with her tone as much as with the content of her lyrics. This introspection carries through to “November Baby,” a track that makes one feel like Scott is whispering a story that she only means for you to hear. It opens with the line “this skin hangs on me like a lampshade.” Gorgeously simple, the lyric's imagery suggests the feelings of isolation and lifelessness that weave their way through the song. It's a fitting end to the portion of the album that finds TORRES at her most intimate.
“When Winter's Over” picks up the pace and kicks off the eclectic latter half of the album. It's a fairly straightforward rock song but it still finds time to drop lines as excellent as “even leaves grow weary of the tree from which they came.” “Chains” veers deeply inward and utilizes drum machines to create a chilling foil for Scott's voice (which is breathtaking, have I mentioned that yet?) “Don't Run Away, Emilie” and “Come to Terms” both have the kind of delicate hooks that bounce around pleasantly in your mind for days afterward. The latter notes that “people always change, ain't always changin for the better/ and just because the two of us will both grow old in time, don't mean we should grow old together.” These literary turns of phrase, while pleasant on paper, are made anew by Scott's fiercely passionate delivery. In this case, and throughout the album, one gets the sense that these songs could never have worked in anyone else's hands.
TORRES is an album that is pulsating with life. All the emotion that went into its making bursts through in the final product, complete with the exhales and floor creaks that a different artist might have felt the need to omit. Scott understands that her music's potency stems from its sense of raw intimacy. To polish it would only dilute what makes it striking. That she understands that is a testament to her promise and her confidence as an artist (if not as a seeker of love). On the albums final track she ponders whether a waterfall is ever scared to take the plunge over the rocks and into the waiting water. She asks “do you ever make it halfway down and think, god, I never meant to jump at all?” Scott threw herself over the rocks in the process of making TORRES and I suspect the admiration that this album will engender will answer her own question of whether she was right to do so. [A-]
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Download album opener "Mother Earth, Father God" for free here.