Album Review: Torres – Torres

[Self-released; 2013]

Upon listening to the debut album by Nashville artist Mackenzie Scott aka Torres, it’s easy to sit on the receiving end of its charm and emotional discourse. That’s not to say it explores feelings of glow and rejoice, but rather it assembles complex human feelings and articulates them in a record that basks in its own humanity through sorrow and reflection, and from that comes elation. Torres petitions the soul to hold itself together in times of bleakness, and while album’s promise may seem unbalanced at times, Scott’s harrowing voice and lyricism manages to turn the attitude into its own favor.

On lead single “Honey”, she makes a particularly distinct impression with the line: “Everything hurts but it’s fine. Happens all the time.” Scott suggests she has come to terms with heartbreak, but at the same time her thoughts appear to have been subjected to denial to allow for tougher skin. The line also serves as a more than acceptable summation of the album’s following tracks, but the near-anthemic calls of “Honey” and “When Winter’s Over” are simply distractions from the downtrodden ballads in between.

“November Baby” begins and ends with the same low-to-high finger picking, but the direction that the notes take never let the song lose steam. It stays with the same general, romanticizing mood and captures the ear with its heavenly inflection. In fact, a large piece of what makes Torres so captivating is Mackenzie Scott’s vibrant and soulful voice. She is hushed, clean, and at times sounds as big as some of songwriting’s most desirable tones, from Sharon Van Etten’s grandiosity and sophistication to St. Vincent’s calm but deceptively powerful beltings. What she has most in common with these powerhouse songwriters is the knack for vocal control–Scott knows how to use that voice of hers and she’s more in-tune with her skills than most upstart musicians and songwriters.

Torres doesn’t really feel like a debut, let alone something remotely self-released–the songwriting ability and surprisingly fantastic and natural production allow for this journal-esque story to get its due. Its human sound harkens back to traits of For Emma, For Ever Ago‘s lovely reminiscences and understated singings about winter, and while the lyricism on Torres is focused around similar disconnections from a previous loved one, Scott’s response is notably shelled.

The final tracks contain a three-punch flurry to the heart, amounting to that full circle ambition the album suggests from the beginning. “Don’t Run Away, Emilie” begins with a programmed beat and haunting vocal sighs from Scott, which then evolve into sections that soar quietly through the air, eventually into the album’s final statements. The track sets itself apart from the others as it is the only real time she is appealing for a lover’s return: “I wanna tell you everything / I’ll be the truest one you know If you’ll stay awhile.” What seemed to be forced confidence before turns into something self-aware on “Come to Terms,” relieving herself of a love decayed by time and distance. The mood suggests gained wisdom, but she insists the labor to repair sadness was premature: “So I’ll be sure to turn my back on everything you said you’d do / I’m gonna come to terms before I have to.”

The final tracks bleed together seamlessly, and by the time “Waterfall” hits, Scott has found a reassured serenity in her own defeat: “Nowhere to go but down / Nothing to do but drown.” The tonality for much of the track feels righteous and uplifting but it can’t sustain throughout. She lets her weakness be revealed at the beginning and then amplifies it into an ambitious, concluding ballad that doesn’t make her seem happier or truly changed. Torres places the listener in cold times that may never end, but the sadness never feels overwrought or misplaced–instead, Mackenzie Scott takes the most difficult and common emotional battles humans face in modern love and emphasizes them into something real.