Torres - Sprinter
"I am a tired woman / In January I will just be twenty three." How does that look on the page? You know, for a song lyric? Starchy? Almost too deliberately under-written? Don't be fooled. Like much of the emerging Torres canon, it's how she tells 'em. As with her first album, Torres selects tools refined but elementary and boy, do they do the job. There are few, if any, fireworks: it's an understated, no sweat sophistication that makes her lyric sheet burn. Whether through unflinching confessional or skewed observation, album number two from the Nashville-born singer makes great claims. Sprinter is properly, fully realised and at every turn offers stark reminder that, really, no one else could sing these songs.
For all of the praise correctly heaped upon Mackenzie Scott's 2013 debut, much of it seemed to be reserved for little more than her persona, this 'Torres' who stood so tall, railed so hard, and built youthful stature from intensity both quiet and loud. With refreshingly few answers but a taste for the big questions, she transmitted an awful, unnerving power. This young woman barely in her twenties arrived so close to fully formed, we almost allowed ourselves to be cowed by her. But if we did miss just how unique and gifted a singer she was, Sprinter offers the half-asleep a second chance. From the whispered coda of the title track, where she's so close to the mic you can feel her hot breath on your face, to the blunt, unforgiving self-assessment of 'New Skin' (above), her delivery is everything. Once you've fallen for it, her voice (a leathery, roughened and beautiful thing) becomes something to chase down and drag into view, get a proper hold of. Through the quieter, extended passages of the seven minute long 'Ferris Wheel' (shades of the draggy cadence of Sharon Van Etten's Are We There), you wait impatiently for her to rage again.
Aside its sharply dramatised, storied scale, Sprinter has a provenance to match. Torres recorded much of it in Bridport before moving on to Portishead mainstay Adrian Utley's studio in Bristol. Robert Ellis and Ian Oliver, two decades after they backed PJ Harvey on her second album Dry, provide similarly stout support here. The arrangements – a mix of bar chord indie thrum, spare acoustic lament, and a subtly applied coat of whirrs, synth fills and snap pulses – supply colour and breadth to a record that so often feels like a questioning, journeying advance. Perhaps it takes, despite near universal acclaim for that stirring debut, more than just one album to properly even begin to understand who you are as an artist. Huh - perhaps it takes two. Whatever, even at this stage, Torres's striving and reach are staggering. "I wish I was the sea…" she sings on 'A Proper Polish Welcome' and in that line alone, she signals the heady scope of her ambition. Ignore for now the distracting title: Sprinter outpaces the competition over any distance.