Torres, the performing name of the singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Mackenzie Scott, hasn’t suffered from a lack of nerve or vision at any point during her recording career. She’s taken up storylines and vantage points a more timid artist might not touch, laying open religious and relational dread and embodying gender fluidity with a fortitude that could seem surgical, poetic and theatrical in turns. The albums she’s released since recording her self-titled lo-fi debut at the end of college at Belmont have been works of tantalizingly mercurial art rock (Sprinter), artfully harsh industrial music (Three Futures) and a mixture of both (Silver Tongue). What’s an intellectual adventurer like her to do five albums in?
The answer Scott arrived at on Thirstier, with her longtime production partner, U.K.-based Rob Ellis, was to close the distance she’s often kept from her subject matter in the past, to write and sing as someone utterly swept up. During much of the 10-song set, her new theme is holding onto desire and pleasure for dear life, and she places more importance than ever before on the magnetism of melody, bolstering it with the directness of her fat, full, fuzzy chord progressions. These were artistic decisions on her part — her response to a sense of paralysis brought on by the pandemic — applied with as much diligence and imagination as any other framework she’s chosen in the past. It turns out that Torres’ version of indie-rocking pop has thrilling friction to it.
When she crafted these first-ever hearty hooks, she wasn’t beholden to familiar pop templates; rather than stripping away the abrasive textures that have been a trademark, she puts them to more energetic, propulsive use, and instead of situating the dramatic peaks of her melodies at their highest points, she often plunges into her low range to sing pivotal, pleading lines.
Scott’s delivery is at its sternest and most sensual at those moments. She conveys romantic admiration in an airy, wistful register during the sexually forward invitation “Drive Me” and the title track, a celebration of long-term heat that builds like a power ballad, then she gets considerably more dogged-sounding an octave below. The chorus of “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes In My Head” plays out a series of dramatic contrasts between her high, excited phrasing and low, emphatic resonance, while the gleefully absurd grunge-pop number “Hug From a Dinosaur” bounds from guttural declarations to multi-layered rock maximalism and girl group-inspired call and-response.
Scott finds a myriad more voicings to use besides: the virile prophet of “Keep the Devil Out,” the insistent comforter of “Are You Sleepwalking?” It’s a striking expansion of an already broad range of expression that sometimes registers as masculine or feminine, but freely spills beyond gendered boundaries. Any structure that Torres engages with, social, musical or otherwise, gives her something to focus her powers toward pushing against.
Torres on “Drive Me”: “Basically, it’s a hot love letter to my love. And it’s about wanting her to take me wherever she wants to go, as long as it leads me to the water, which, you know, do with that what you will. In a more general, generally relatable sense, I could say that it’s just about wanting to. let your lover take the reins. When somebody who normally takes the reins, hands over the reins, that can be really hot and compelling.”
Torres on “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes In My Head”: I just think it’s a really different song than anything I’ve made before. I also pushed myself vocally. Each album, I’ve kind of gained a little more confidence in my range and my ability to hit the notes. When you’re making a record, you’re not just making the record; you’re setting yourself up for the songs that you’re going to be singing every night on stage, on tour. That prospect has always kind of daunted me. Like, do I have what it takes to sing all of these songs every night for two months? I don’t know. And I just decided to be super risky, even if it was a struggle, to sing a song with some real range.”
Torres on “Hug From a Dinosaur”: “I made the format super simple. It’s four chords over and over and over again. Giving myself a structure in that way, it made me feel like I could really go nuts in all the other ways. Really, it is silly. It’s absurd. I made the decision from the beginning that I would just write more of a stream of consciousness way that I’m inclined to do when I write songs. Even if it seemed like a silly line, just write it, sing it, see how it fits. Syllable to syllable, just having it flow made it so that I could kind of say I could say certain things that I wouldn’t normally say in a song.”
Torres on “Thirstier”: “I’m applying the term to a committed long term monogamous relationship, so, you know, this isn’t about an Instagram thirst trap. This is about the love of my life. So right there, it’s already very high stakes. Culturally, and also just I think it’s human nature, we’re always kind of seeking fulfillment in the new, the newest thing, the next thing. I’m actually applying it to the the relationship that I already have. And it’s really about having that relationship be so fulfilling that it it feeds itself and then it creates more desire. And it’s a very cyclical thing as opposed to being this kind of random like search for for fulfillment everywhere else.”