I feel like I spent most of last year complaining about how much I hated 2012 music, but I actually neglected to mention the most disappointing album of the year for me: Cat Power’s Sun. I’ve been a Cat Power fan for a long time, mostly based on her spare, haunting early albums like You Are Free and especially Moon Pix. That made it really disappointing to see her give into so many lame musical trends on Sun, which was loaded with autotune and other misguided attempts to be “current.” The word that I kept thinking of to describe the album was “fake,” and that was a word I never thought I would associate with Cat Power’s music.
I only bring this up because an album came out earlier this year that I’ve been thinking of in the exact opposite terms. 22 year-old Mackenzie Scott, who performs under the moniker Torres, released her self-titled debut somewhat quietly in January, and it’s exactly what I had been missing from music almost all of last year. It’s an extremely impressive debut because it takes notes from the old Cat Power, using minimalism and honesty to make an impact on the listener.
Basically, Torres feels real to me. It’s the sound of an artist putting all of her feelings out there without hiding behind any of the cheesy gimmicks that continue to drive me insane with so much current music. It helps that, for someone who is 22, Scott sings with a mature and world-weary voice, like someone who has been through a lot of experiences. Most of the album’s arrangements are extremely simplistic and recorded with minimal production in live takes, which adds to the power of her voice and words.
The major stand-out track on the album is “Honey,” which knocked me over sort of like EMA’s “California” did a couple years ago with its intensity and fearlessness. Torres starts the song by muttering over a simple guitar riff, and the song builds and builds until she’s wailing “honey, while you were ashing in your coffee, I was thinking ’bout telling you what you’ve done to me.” Then she recedes back into mumbling in the final seconds: “Maybe some other time then I’ll come back again.” It’s the kind of bold, highly personal song that I always find really powerful, and hearing it made me instantly optimistic about this year’s music.
The rest of the album is mostly in that vein, with some more subdued songs like “November Baby” and some more straight-forward rock like “When Winter’s Over.” Scott is from Nashville, so there is a bit of a country twang in a lot of the songs. They’re all a perfect showcase for her voice and lyrics, which are what really makes this such an accomplished first album. So far, this is probably my favorite release of 2013 in the non-MBV division, and I might like it more than anything that came out in 2012. You can listen to it on Spotify here.