Review: Torres Boldly Revamps Her Sound on the Mysterious, Expansive Three Futures
When you sign on to make your new album in the same place as your last one, you’re either afraid of change or you were right the first time. Mackenzie Scott, the 26-year-old Brooklyn resident who makes music as Torres, is convinced of her artistic choices. Her new record is called Three Futures, and like 2015’s Sprinter, it was recorded in England with longtime PJ Harvey producer Rob Ellis. Considering how many factors in the album’s creation remained constant, perhaps the most striking thing about it is how boldly Scott has revamped her sound. When you make your new album in the same place as your last one and it’s totally different, the change is inside you.
Already on Sprinter, Scott was edging her creations with electronics, feeding static into the cracks of songs like “Cowboy Guilt” and “Son, You Are No Island.” Three Futures carries the sound to a dramatic, synthesizer-heavy conclusion, sacrificing guitar chords and leaving melodies in stark relief. Scott’s voice comes through low and full-bodied across a thousand-yard delivery. If there’s no one song as breathtaking as “Strange Hellos,” Sprinter’s ferocious opener, Three Futures makes up for it in cohesion, sounding like smoke and mirrors and humming radiators.
Promotional materials described Futures in terms of the parts of England where it was recorded: grittier, industrial Stockport and sunny seaside Dorset. The metaphor seems too easy to be so true. Futures rides on thudding mechanized beats, many of which Scott says she initially composed while walking, then programmed into a drum machine. You can sense her cadence in the sound, unhurried and heavy like boots—she must be the slowest walker in New York. The unvaried tempo is one reason for the sense of cohesion. She picks up her stride up just once, on “Helen in the Woods,” a wide-eyed horror about a feral girl who may have been a victim herself.
Three Futures is a slow burn, but Torres doesn’t require speed, not when she can hold our attention with something more akin to intense eye contact. The album comes to feel like a false mirror of Scott’s real-life experiences: On “Righteous Woman,” she declares herself “more of an ass man” and boasts about manspreading. “Marble Focus” is a fantasy of flying over Stonehenge, and “Concrete Ganesha” is inspired by the Myrtle Viaduct, the century-old Brooklyn elevated track. Opener “Tongue Slap Your Brain Out” begs forgiveness from her parents, back in Georgia: “I know you never dreamed / I’d become a damn Yankee.”
The “damn Yankee” line is one of a few Scott wields like a cudgel, repeating them until they’ve been heard so many times they begin to detach from meaning. It’s a technique she’s used before, one she’s said is inspired by Gregorian chant. But in the newly spare jurisdiction of Three Futures it feels more prominent, surreal and repetitive.
“Helen” is the nerve center, but the title track, with a metronomic swoon worthy of Majical Cloudz, is the emotional heart. In interviews, Scott names the “Three Futures” as what will happen, what should happen, and what one wants to happen. It’s more elegant in verse, when she sings, “You didn’t know I saw three futures; / One alone, and one with you / And one with the love I knew I’d choose.” The trinity is in her eyes, and in the song’s video, where there are three Mackenzies, one cradling another as the third gives her head. It means what you think, and several more inscrutable things besides.