Every once in a while, a new artist comes out with a debut single that just blows your mind. Tennessean singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott, aka Torres, is one such artist: her debut “Honey” was one of the most powerful, captivating—hell, one of the most awesome singles in a long time. The moment her voice rips into a wave of distortion on that track, you know that there’s something special about this one. And to capture listeners’ attention so effectively with your first single is something incredible in itself – but all too often, artists never live up to the hype of a first effort like this, and are forever condemned to be one hit wonders.
Thankfully, Torres isn’t having any of that. Her self-titled debut LP does everything in its power to meet, and even shatter, any expectations raised by “Honey”, with several songs that are just as stark and gorgeous. Listeners might be a little thrown off by the opener; with its steady drumbeat and cello stabs, “Mother Earth, Father God” seemingly goes against the bare-bones ideals she introduced on her debut single. Indeed, it’s probably the least remarkable song on the album. But then something great happens.
The songs just keep getting better. On “Jealousy and I”, the guitar is distant, smothered in reverb, while Mackenzie’s voice couldn’t be any more immediate as she desperately explains the extent of her jealousy. “Moon & Back” tells the story of a mother forced to give up her child – and whether it was true of her own mother or not, Mackenzie’s heartfelt lyrics whisk you away on this narrative journey, her delivery compelling you to try and understand.
The lyrics are conversational, yet sharp, poetic; imagistic. And the album is just brimming with brilliant lines. Even something as simple as “This skin hangs on me like a lampshade” conveys a lot of feeling in just a few words; and of course, there’s the immortal chorus of “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee / I was thinking ‘bout telling you what you’ve done to me.” The last 3 tracks segue beautifully into each other, culminating in the stunning open space of this album’s closer, “Waterfall”, on which Scott presents the magnificent question, ‘Do you ever make it half way down, and think, “God, I never meant to jump at all”?’
And Torres is just a terrific singer, to boot. She’s a great singer-songwriter in the truest sense: the Joni Mitchell of our time, if you will. Her voice gracefully swoops with her vocal melodies, but is always ready to seize power, like on “Honey”, at just the right moment.
I think my favourite thing about this album is the contrast between Scott’s smooth, quiet voice, and the bright tone and distortion of her guitar. If she strummed an acoustic instead, you could possibly call it indie folk, but the songs here defy classification: they’re baseless, expanding caverns of vocals and guitar arpeggios, almost like something Roy Harper or Joanna Newsom might do but incomparable to anything else at the same time. And just when you think you’ve got her style sussed, she pulls the rug out from under you with the synth bass of “Chains” or the echoing, droning backdrop of “Waterfall”.
Torres seems to enjoy surprising the listener, like when her voice is brutally cut off at the end of the track “Chains”. But indeed, the greatest surprise is how someone’s vision could be so fully formed on their first album. It may not suit everyone’s tastes, but I implore everyone to listen to it. It’s an album that succeeds on so many fronts. And I, for one, can’t wait to hear more from her.