When Sprinter, Mackenzie Scott’s second album as Torres, came out in 2015, it was an astoundingly assured statement from a young artist that positioned her as one of the most intoned and prescient songwriters of her time. Building on the bracingly powerful folk of her debut, the album confronted her upbringing in the Baptist Church, reconciling her faith with her qualms and uncertainties. It was a cathartic masterwork, one added by experimental moments like the opaque “Cowboy Guilt”, which combines a sing-song melody over a stiff, krautrock-inspired beat. The song hinted at a desire to explore the artificial and play with expectations, tendencies she explores in depth on Three Futures, her wholly engrossing third album and first on new label 4AD.
Three Futures, at its core, is an album about taking up space, and the different methods from which that can manifest. It can be literal, like on “Righteous Woman”, where she says: “And when I go to spread, it’s just to take up all the space I can.” She expressed in an interview with i-D that the song was her response to the trend of “manspreading,” asking why anyone who isn’t a man shouldn’t be able to spread and occupy as much space as possible. It comes across in the music, in how on “Marble Focus” a minimal use of bubbling synths and sparse guitar lines build the atmosphere of the song. “There’s no unlit corner of the room I’m in,” Scott repeats on the single “Skim”, where both her words and the music combine to fill every crevice.
In that same interview, Scott explained the approach to writing the music on Three Futures, one influenced by Goethe, as if she were drawing a house, building a frame and structure to surround the lyrics. With the pointed guitar riffs throughout, the house is one of sharp edges, stark and brisk where every piece has a purpose. The programmed drums on songs like “Greener Stretch” or “Bad Baby Pie” imbue the mechanical nature of an album that can be jarring in its rigidity, especially when she over-enunciates each word in a lyric so that they stick with full effect. By creating a strict framework, it feels steeped in the history of krautrock, and when she rails against that on songs like “Helen in the Woods”, it recalls Big Black’s method of challenging those lines.
While the use of synthesizers, programmed drums, modular instruments, and even Scott’s purposefully stilted guitar riffs give the album its background, it’s a framework designed to confront the nature of the human body itself. Three Futures is overwhelmed with senses, the smell of bergamot perfume, a warm peach cobbler that makes “your tongue slap your brains out,” or the temptation of a “flesh that’s far too willing.” On “Bad Baby Pie”, her partner takes her out to dinner to break off a relationship, but one look at Scott’s narrator sends the partner “hurdling home” without any clothes on, and Scott promises it’ll be worth “every last bite.” Scott’s prose is rich with vivid detail that breathes life into these songs.
Three Futures is a heavily sensual album, albeit one that distorts the traditional lens through which sexuality is typically seen in rock music. As writer Sasha Geffen pointed out in an analysis of the music video for “Skim”, Scott subverts the traditional male gaze as she plays her guitar dressed in a suit as a barely clothed woman lay draped on her while she stares pointedly at the camera. On “Righteous Woman”, Scott blatantly expresses she is not what the song’s title should suggest, but instead that she’s “more of an ass man,” with the type of snarl that could rival Nick Cave. Through her visuals and lyrics, Scott projects a leering gaze that is typically thought of as masculine, one that falls in line with her response to manspreading.
This is most apparent on “Helen in the Woods”, the raging outlier on the album that tells the story of a high school-aged female stalker whose obsession turns dangerous. It punctures the controlled nature of the album with its unhinged chaos, a startling sprawl of noise. The song confronts the way feminine desire can often be depicted as deranged, hysterical obsession where similar tendencies are seen as chivalrous from a male point of view. With its examination of teenage sexuality, and certainly aided by references to impending danger in the woods, the song even recalls the character of Laura Palmer. Like Lynch, Scott proves herself a master at twisting traditional narratives to provide incisive insight.
While Scott has largely moved beyond the focus of Christianity that informed her first two records for a deeper examination of the physical self, it’s still connected to her quest to grasp the spiritual. These viewpoints coalesce on resolute closer “To Be Given a Body”, where she quotes from the book of Romans while stating how just to have a body and agency over one’s self is “the greatest gift.” Just on how the album opens with reconciling her journey to becoming “a damn Yankee” with her Georgia upbringing, it closes by connecting the themes she explored in her past with her present. The album’s title track poses a choice for Scott, an option of different lives based on her choices, accepting the fact that ultimately there is only one sequence of events that will actually come to pass. Wherever that path leads, Three Futures proves that Scott will continue to pursue it with poise and confidence, taking up all the space she can.
Essential Tracks: “Skim”, “Righteous Woman”, and “Helen in the Woods”