8/10• Mother Earth, Father God
• Jealousy & I
• November Baby
• When Winter’s Over
• Moon & Back
• Don’t Run Away, Emilie
• Come To Terms
• Waterfall There’s a remarkable confidence to 22-year-old Mackenzie Scott’s debut album. She’s arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, a wise and sophisticated songwriter and performer, recognising the slow-burning impact of nuance, patience and suspense. Her intimate guitar fingerpicking and close-mic’d delivery is the sort of music that demands your full attention, and she doesn’t disappoint.
Torres is a record about restraint, both musically and lyrically. Scott’s instrumentation is often uncomfortably pared down, a minimalism that never cushions the angst of her vocals. When the songs do call for something lush, her string arrangements are sweet but never cloying, deployed to great effect on ‘Moon & Back’ and ‘Don’t Run Away, Emilie’ – two of the more sentimental tracks, but still tinged with melancholy. More often than not, though, the songs have no adornment beyond the odd subtle bass hit or overdubbed vocal, leaving you arrested by Scott’s voice and her knack for always picking the perfect guitar tone. One of the record’s most jaw-dropping moments comes at the end of ‘Chains’, a song built almost entirely on subterranean bass drones and a skeletal beat, when we’re left with Scott’s exposed voice repeating the song’s final words, until she’s violently cut short by the jerk of a tape loop.
This sense of restraint and absence is especially effective in the record’s searing standout, ‘Honey’, and its conflicted chorus – “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee / I was thinking about telling you what you’ve done to me” – and she drags out the word “honey” for an extra four beats, hovering dangerously over it, imbuing it with irony. It gets angrier on each repeat but never really releases; she never actually tells him, and she never tells the listener either, focusing instead on this vivid scene. Elsewhere, the long and wandering ‘November Baby’ seems to shift ambiguously between distinct memories of a former lover and a yearning for an idealised, absent partner – “I hear you on the tongues of strangers / I hang on every word they speak”.
These inward turns, and Scott’s achingly intimate delivery, give a feel of the record as ten separate songs rather than a full-length journey, but this approach allows for a compelling versatility that more than makes up for the lack of cohesion. Almost every track feels like an album closer, the emotional distillation of a long journey. Even Pavement-esque ’90s throwback ‘When Winter’s Over’ feels like a weary resolution, beneath its jaunty power chords. This makes the actual final track, ‘Waterfall’, all the more astonishing. In perhaps the record’s most dramatic image, the narrator gazes down at sharp rocks below, then matter-of-factly asks “Do you ever make it halfway down and think”, and then she gasps: “God, I never meant to jump at all.”