After the release of Three Futures in 2017—and an unceremonious record-deal termination shortly thereafter (4AD Records)—Mackenzie Scott (TORRES) nearly quit music. Calling the act of chasing commercial success a “delusional pursuit”, she took three years to read, work, and otherwise climb her way “out of a tunnel”, all the while reflecting on the future’s veiled designs.
The result of Scott’s reflections is Silver Tongue , a new, self-produced work out now from Merge Records. The album—Scott’s cleanest, most mature release to date—marks a new level of conviction for the entire TORRES project. Its nine songs, all evocative and transporting, strive toward a new vocabulary for connection, confidence, and queer love.
Lyrically, Silver Tongue traces the difficulties (and rewards) of trying to create a future tense with a new partner. In effect, it explores a geography of intimacy that many American 20-somethings are themselves trying to navigate. “Are you planning to love me through the bars of a golden cage?” she asks on the album’s opener, “Good Scare”. “You make me want to write the country song folks here in New York get a kick out of” (“Good Scare.”) “I’ve saved records of your tenderness that you say don’t exist.” (“Records of Your Tenderness”, a rhythmically intricate song that rhymes, subtly, with Björk’s “History of Touches”.) “You leaned back into me, my guitar on your chest / I sang you a memory I can’t seem to put to rest / Then you sent me home with a few blue flowers.” “A Few Blue Flowers”, a glacial, sparkling tune that, for some, perhaps obvious reasons, brings to mind author Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.
As Scott mentioned in an interview with MTV’s Max Freedman, “Two of Everything”, the album’s narrative pivot point, was among the hardest songs for Scott to write. A meditation on insecurity and infidelity, jealousy and bitterness, the song dives headlong into some of the ugliest feelings that can emerge when we learn that our trust has been betrayed. “To the one sharing my lover’s bed / It’s not my mission to be cruel / But she don’t light up the room / When she’s talking about you.”
What all these lyrics add up to is a skillfully crafted weave: part song cycle, part epistolary experiment, part self-excavation.
The voice giving that weave physical form—Scott’s own—remains one of TORRES’s most arresting features: strong, proximate, often tweaked with fuzzy pedals and dreamy patches. Some vocal highlights include Scott’s intimate, close-mic falsetto on “Gracious Day”; her belting on “Good Grief” (a little reminiscent of Brody Dalle’s work with The Distillers, especially “The Gallows Is God”); and that gravelly chorus in “Last Forest”, during which Scott bottoms out, searching the floor of her range as if for a lost jewel. And true to form, Scott’s melodies delight by surprise. Listen, for instance, to the way she unexpectedly sustains the word “on” in “Dressing America” (“You think that I don’t know that you stay cold? / Come on / You’re always telling me I don’t know who you are / Come on, woman”). Here, as elsewhere, Scott’s syntax, stanzas, and melodic lines drift in and out of phase, creating that feeling so central to much of her music: there’s always more than one story being told.
Importantly, Silver Tongue marks Scott’s first time at the production helm, and her music has benefitted from it. Propulsive percussion, woozy guitars, atmospheric pads, and warbly synths ferry the songs across styles, genres: neo-grunge, synth revival, heavy folk, bedroom pop, electro-anthem, post-rock, drone, fantasy film score. It’s not all bombast, though. Check out the musical subtleties on “Two of Everything” where three elements—Scott’s voice, the synth-guitar lead, and the rumbly bass—attract and repel each other as if locked in erratic orbit. Sonically, it all adds up to a sense that every song is like a room you can walk into, an environment you can inhabit. Often more spatial than processual, Scott’s new musical arrangements invite listeners to focus on her poetic recountings and thus build their own meanings out of love’s choreography.
With that in mind: if we can say Silver Tongue‘s is “about” anything—beyond its narrative architecture, beyond the industry disillusionments that made it possible, beyond even the rocky events relayed in the songs—it might well be something like recognition. Recognizing yourself in the music you’ve self-produced, recognizing there’s always more to discover, recognizing, in your experiences with another, what a future in love might look like.