Amid the seriousness of her 2017 album Three Futures—it was primarily about reckoning with religious trauma, after all—TORRES’ Mackenzie Scott predicts, in the glow of disjointed synth-pop, “There must be a greener stretch ahead.” And after what feels like a lifetime, it sounds like the Georgia-born, Brooklyn-based artist is finally basking on those green lawns she sketched out nearly four messy years ago.
The music of TORRES has never been desolate, but there’s a clear change in tone on Scott’s fifth record under the moniker. Scott’s music has shifted from experimental rock to progressive pop and back again, and her career has been exciting to witness, but there was always the sense she was capable of something more energized, more her. In her latest release, Thirstier, we finally have the complete picture, and it’s as lively a rock album as you’ll hear this year.
Scott followed her clear-eyed 2015 breakthrough Sprinter, a standout record from that year, with the beautifully weird Three Futures. It was well-received by critics and remains one of the singular releases in TORRES’ vault, but it wasn’t long before she was booted by her then-label 4AD “for not being commercially successful enough.” Merge Records threw Scott a life preserver in 2019 when the Durham, North Carolina-based indie rock authority signed TORRES. Her first full-length release on the label was last year’s bold Silver Tongue, arriving in the waning months of pre-pandemic life. Eighteen months later, we all know more than we did in January 2020, and Scott is no exception.
We heard glimmers of TORRES’ new direction on Silver Tongue highlights like the eerie “Good Scare” and adventurous “Dressing America,” but Thirstier shows us a new TORRES altogether. Rather than choosing just one front to explore, Scott leaps from one musical style to the next effortlessly while diving headfirst into a sampling of new lyrical ideas—even if that means wading through choppy waters at times.
One moment she’s spitting fantastical lyrics that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Zeppelin track (See “Constant Tomorrowland” for this line: “Centuries writhing in / Dullness of darkness / After all of this / comes a mighty harvest”), and the next she’s trekking through Jack White’s territory, atop mountains of jagged rock ‘n’ roll. Not five minutes later, she sounds like PJ Harvey got lost in an MGMT song, howling as she rides wave after wave of indie-pop ecstasy on “Hand in the Air.”
“Hug From a Dinosaur,” a tilted grunge tune with traits of Orville Peck’s strain of country music, rides the high of a love affair. “What comprises all this joy I feel and where was it before?” Scott asks, before later positing, in a line so ludicrous only she could pull it off, “Truth is ancient and eternal and surreal as a hug from a dinosaur.”
“Drive Me” and the title track both feel indebted to Liz Phair. The woozy direction of the former makes for one of the loveliest songs on the album, sticky-sweet as Scott describes a lover as “Better than a muse / burns slower than a fuse.” Nineties guitar rock again reigns supreme on “Thirstier,” where Scott sings, “The more of you I drink, the thirstier I get, baby.” The following song, “Kiss the Corners,” encompasses one of the album’s best production feats. The energy and rhythm of an LCD Soundsystem song paired with TORRES’ distinct vocal range adds to the tale’s menacing, high-stakes energy.
Opening thrasher “Are You Sleepwalking?”and kicker “Keep The Devil Out” bookend the album with a desire to shed confusion and chaos and replace it with pure pleasure. Scott shakes herself out of a daze on the former (“Some things have gone missing / I promise we’ll find them again,” she assures us) before closing her quest on the album closer, a sideways rocker-turned-anthem bursting with unbound vocals that could be mistaken for those of Florence Welch. “Stir crazy and bored / Expiring behind doors,” she drones in a line all the more relatable after 2020, before declaring, “I have got all the hope I need / To keep the devil out of here.”
Scott admits in Thirstier’s promotional materials that she hasn’t always been so sure of the future, or herself: “I’ve been conjuring this deep, deep joy that I honestly didn’t feel for most of my life,” she says. That newfound delight is so clearly heard throughout Thirstier’s wild-eyed rock songs. Thirstier is the sound of rediscovering a lust for life, even after carrying anxiety and grief and feeling trapped. And now that she has resumed chasing life’s greatest joys, Scott is insatiable.
Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.