Cherry Pop #2 - Torres
For our first Cherry Pop feature last month, we asked Helen King (ex of Shrag) to kick us off. Define the feature and its intent, we said. Tell us something we don’t know. Shine a light on that scariest of undertakings for any artist - the debut album. And go deep. She did all of that and more.
For #2, Lara Williams picks up the baton. Until recently, she played with PINS, a band we've long admired. Those of us who appreciate a good drummer (and Lara is a good drummer) had to think hard about forgiving her when she left but we think we got there in the end. Plus, she had a more pressing engagement – small matter of a creative writing MA to complete. Bah – music’s loss, our gain, as you’ll see below. We like her choice a lot. More than that, we like why she likes it. It’s an album we didn’t actually cover when released at the start of the year and now we feel like fools. If you’re in the same boat, read on and tell us you’re not sold.
Opening with “I was born on a bloody battleground / To the middleman between two realms” on ‘Mother Earth, Father God’, Torres quickly pitches her eponymous debut as something striving for grandiosity; unabashedly so, with allusions to the Divine Comedy, the Bible and The Usual Suspects in little under its first five minutes. It’s a record that’s not afraid to be smart and referential, because it’s got the follow-through to elude pretension; it’s not afraid to be melodramatic, because it’s candid and true. Released at the beginning of the year, Torres isn’t my favourite debut record of all time, it isn’t even my favourite album of the year, but it’s that honesty that makes Torres so grippingly, captivatingly compelling.
‘Melodrama’ feels like the right word to describe Torres because Torres feels like women’s music; self-abnegation, domestic strife, actualisation, romance (and the death thereof) all compromise the themes here, rendered with a sincere pathos and compassion. Take ‘Jealousy & I’ - it feels like a radical song. Like the album, it isn’t wry and it isn’t pretty; it’s honest, with an unflinching ugliness comparable to Simone De Beauvoir’s She Came To Stay. Female jealousy is a peculiar epidemic, unsurprising in a culture that demands we define ourselves in opposition to other women, where other women are annexed and maligned as a peripheral threat to our imagined domesticity. It is not being talked about and it should be. It renders us atomised and threatened, and it is bullshit. The guitars thrill and tingle like the shiver of anxiety, over the nervy repetition of “I don’t mind, no I don’t mind”; the melody is indulgent and melancholy, languishing, really - articulating the strange pleasure, the perverse flush of trawling through Facebook photos, of twisting the knife in deeper. ‘Jealousy & I’ gives voice to these feelings and validates them, and in doing so, exorcises them.
Jealousy is rooted in self-loathing and this is an album about self-loathing. Look at the cover: she stares blankly ahead while a mirrored version of herself (?) kisses her own cheek. She’s trying to be tender to herself but it’s uncomfortable. It feels like a counterpart to Yeezus; to use perhaps a facile platitude, masculine expression is extrovert while female angst is inverted. Torres’ internalised animosity, precise self-wounding and potent introspection are a mirror to Yeezus’s screams, its explosive tempo shifts, its non-linear narratives. Penultimate track ‘Come To Terms’ is about acceptance and moving on, immediately negated in the final track with “do you ever get halfway down and think, I never meant to jump at all”. It’s schizophrenic, dually entertaining two conflicting notions, because self-actualisation is. ‘Moon & Back’ is ostensibly about adoption, but beyond that, it’s a love song; it’s about needing and craving in a nebulous, abstract sense. “For a short time I had you to break my fall” is not a romantic line, but it is a pretty heartbreaking line. The whole album is like: LEAVE ME LIKE I KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO.
I sense a sea change. ‘Smother’ by Daughter gives voice to another stereotypically unattractive female idiosyncrasy. Leanne Shapton’s graphic novel Was She Pretty? is about going batshit over her boyfriend’s ex. Frances Ha outlines the messy, complicated intimacy of female friendship. One of the reason Girls resonates is because it articulates contemporary female insecurities in spectacularly, gloriously unflattering terms. We are a generation of women who want to be treated like shit by Ryan Gosling. We want to be self-possessed and independent, but we’ve been conditioned to feel we need a man. Or have we? It’s confusing. I think it’s why we like cats so much. If Robin Thicke can dance, fully clothed, alongside a bunch of naked nineteen year olds, in a song hard pushed to be described as anything other than a celebration of rape culture, to barely batted eyelids and a No. 1 chart position, surely it’s time for an exorcism and examination of the darker recesses of female consciousness?
While Torres is heavily contextualised within a post-Riot Grrrl millennials framework, to be filed alongside Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt and Major Orcana by Speedy Ortiz, she is also part of a tradition of female artists speaking timelessly, taking shitty things and turning them into a good story: Patti Smith, Sylvia Plath, Erica Jong, et al. And beneath the darkness is a beautiful record; packed with gorgeous, prosaic images and deft turns of phrase. “Even the leaves grow weary of the trees from which they hang” is stubborn and cantankerous, packaged as whimsy, in a neat and pretty cameo. It is also very literary: many of the songs feel like self-contained short stories. The narrative of ‘Honey’ could have been plucked from the pages of an Alice Munro collection. ‘Don’t Run Away, Emily’ has skeletal restraint and iceberg suggestion, the ghostly sketching around the blanks of Flannery O’Connor. Lyrically, it is very accomplished.
Bruce Springsteen described the snare shot at the beginning of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as kicking open the door to your mind; I think a debut album should have that impact. It should be an arrival, a signpost of things to come. Torres isn’t a perfect album, the format is played out and derivative, it is musically unambitious - but at a time when music is mostly accessed through Spotify, when records trickle away leaving scarcely a ripple, something about its honesty and elegance grabs you, and it feels fresh and anarchistic, candid and true - and genuinely inspiring. I think on the next album we will see something purged and rejuvenated, reborn and optimistic. Or at least, I hope we will. Torres, I am holding out for you.