[sic] Magazine

Torres – Sprinter

A lot of people missed singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott’s rather wonderful debut when it first came out, word of mouth eventually transforming it into the sleeper success it deserved. Expect critical waves of hyperbole then for her new LP, Sprinter, as they all play catch up. It’s an album that warrants the praise it’ll get though for Scott has grown in confidence now, belting out “If I don’t believe then no one will” during the album’s ever-intensifying opener. Back in 2013 it was difficult all the same to know whether vulnerability or angst suited Scott better. What was clear though were tracks that fell in the middle ground were not her strongest. Sprinter again has its inconsequential moments, a track or two spun out for longer than strictly necessary, but its dizzying highs compensate generously.

Scott’s running order again ranges from the intimate to the rocking – often within the same track – bringing to mind those whispery PJ Harvey albums from the 90s, whose producer, Rob Ellis, just so happens to be manning the boards here too. While her S/T debut mainly trundled in sparse folk-rock, Sprinter – surprise, surprise, – runs with fuller, heavier material indicative of the whirlwind life Scott has been leading these past couple of years. Accordingly, the alt-rocking “New Skin” finds her adjusting to the darkness of her new Brooklyn home and generally acclimatising to the growing demands her higher-profile status now affords – a journey that sequentially begins on the title track during which she’s literally fleeing her Baptist upbringing.

Where Scott’s voice used to crack when recounting tales of unrequited love she’s now content “to ride an empty Ferris wheel”, also claiming during the same weepy shuffle that’s she’s nevertheless hiding behind “music and wit.” Right on cue the tin-pot experimentation of “Cowboy Guilt” is fun but ultimately a distraction. Scott remains vague with her characters and it’s still unclear just how much of herself she weaves into them, but, be they first-person accounts or otherwise, throwing up music and wit as a defence mechanism is child’s play for Scott as she has both the melodies and the lyrical dexterity to get away with it.

There’s a real poetic richness to her words in particular and she dresses them up magnetically throughout, tastefully distorting them into Gothic territory in places and multi-tracking her vocal disorientatingly on the quietly seething “Son, You Are No Island”, a track in which Scott’s isolated finger-plucking and cavernous reverb cast its feel close to passive-aggressive post-rock. Tender opening aside there’s no such restraint, however, on the standout “Strange Hellos”, Scott snarling through loud-quiet structures and shit-kicking feedback. Come Sprinter’s close though her shields are resolutely down once again. She’s laid as bare as she’s ever been by raw acoustic strumming, her fingers squeaking on the fret, the track’s stark chorus another painfully existential denouement: “Mother, father, I’m underwater, and I don’t think you can pull me out of this”.

Scott is fast developing into one of America’s best songwriters and with Sprinter she has the ammo to back up such a claim. Her split personality still makes it difficult to predict whether she’ll next come out guns blazing or retreat back into self-questioning shadows – just make sure you follow her no matter the direction.

Best track: “Strange Hellos”

~Sprinter is released May 18th 2015 via Partisan.~