Torres' Mackenzie Scott (photo by Shawn Brackbill)
Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter Mackenzie Scott, who records as Torres, hit the ground running in early 2013 with her critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album. Extensive touring helped spread the word about the Georgia-born artist who finally released her second album, Sprinter, this week. Co-produced with longtime PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis, who also played drums and keyboards on the album, Sprinter seethes with a potency and muscularity reminiscent of Harvey’s early albums.
Scott wastes little time before delving into the intensely dark nature of Sprinter, lyrically and otherwise. “Strange Hellos,” the lead track, starts with Scott declaring, “Heather, I’m sorry, that your mother, diseased in the brain, cannot recall your name.” Those stark, chillingly bland lines eventually erupt into a jarringly distorted rocker. “Son, You Are No Island” is a disturbing discourse delivered in an otherworldly voice, guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine.
As with the first Torres release, autobiography remains a constant on Sprinter. Scott’s religious upbringing is examined numerous times, especially in the album’s title track: the dissection of a church pastor brought down by pornography. A Southern conservative upbringing is also the subject of “Cowboy Guilt,” which offers a slightly whimsical melody. As a counterpoint, the brutally honest “Ferris Wheel” expands as a slow, meditative examination of loneliness and sadness.
Throughout Sprinter, Scott displays a formidable maturity as a songwriter. Under the cloak of Torres, she frames intensely direct lyrics with melodies devoid of any excesses, often emphasizing meaning over song craft. There is no padding and no sugarcoating. Whether drenched in distorted dissonance or adrift in fragile acoustic strums, like in the nearly eight minute finale “The Exchange,” the nine volatile songs on Sprinter lobby for attention and never loosen their grip.
Mostly recorded with Ellis in Dorset, England, Scott was backed back by formidable band that included Portishead drummer Adrian Utley and Harvey’s bassist Ian Oliver.
Sprinter reinforces the strengths Scott revealed on the first Torres album. This is not music for the faint of heart and definitely not for casual, easy listening. Comparisons to Polly Harvey are inevitable—thanks to the frequent Harvey collaborators on this album—but Scott is a unique and challenging artist in her own right. Her anguished, sometimes aggressive singing, darkly introspective lyrics and primal melodies are thrilling. Sprinter is a ferociously compelling and deeply personal album.
Preview songs and/or buy 'em (all purchases benefit WFUV):