Mackenzie Scott trades in stark observations and open wounds. Over three albums as Torres, she has continuously plumbed the depths of her psyche through new musical and lyrical terrain. Her latest, Silver Tongue (out Jan. 31), mines similar territory with some pertinent changes: a new label, Merge, after being dropped one album into a three-album deal by 4AD for, in her words, “not being commercially successful enough,” and a new producer – herself – after two albums working with PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis.
The resulting album is a 34-minute-long study of the intensity and emotional range of longing, its observations on love issued with characteristic bluntness. Writing has always been a method of control for Scott – in an interview with NPR’s Marissa Lorusso, she describes it as her “superpower… [her way of] getting to have the last word.” She uses it here to slog through internal turmoil, telling Lorusso she was “trying to write myself out of a tunnel… of burning, dark desire.”
Scott’s previous work was always intense and increasingly ambitious, defined by her lyrical strengths, but she has never sounded this potent and pointed at once. Silver Tongue sounds empowered – it has a sexiness and strut, even when the music isn’t traditionally swaggering. Lines like “To the one sharing my lover’s bed / It’s not my mission to be cruel / But she don’t light up the room / When she’s talking about you” (from “Two of Everything) and “You might give me a good scare for a minute there / But I’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve seen that look from you before’ / When you start eyeing all the exits” (from “Good Scare”) shine even brighter amid crisp, clear production from Scott, supported with stellar engineering from Jeff Zeigler (Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs) and mixing from Jorge Elbrecht (Violens, Lansing-Dreiden).
Befitting her Baptist upbringing, there’s something undeniably church-like in the hugeness of its nine songs, along with a subtle gothic undertow. Tracks like opener (and single) “Good Scare” and “Two of Everything” sound like collaborations between Zola Jesus and Peter Gabriel – Melt blanketed by neon glow. There are hints of Björk’s influence all over: her playful, internal logic-driven melodic sense mixed with delicate, tactile sounds and ‘90s IDM textures on “Last Forest;” concrete observations rendered with an impressionist’s flair alongside squiggling electronics on the lovely “A Few Blue Flowers;” lush, swooning romanticism juxtaposed with crunchy beats on the Homogenic-adjacent closer, “Silver Tongue.”
There are also more traditional moments, albeit mostly with modern touches. “Records of Your Tenderness” is a standout, combining a melody that could be from an Irish folk song with buzzy synths and Radiohead-esque guitar and drums. “Dressing America” rides a “With or Without You” slow burn and adds e-bowed guitar to a nocturnal, urban mood reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Rounding out the tracklist are “Gracious Day,” the album’s second single, and “Good Grief” – the most straightforward acoustic and electric songs on the album, respectively, driven by strong vocal performances.
Despite its somewhat tumultuous origins, Silver Tongue is forthright and clear-eyed – accessible arty pop with a beguiling clarity and confidence in its sentiments. Even at her most vulnerable, Scott retains strength, and her music has never sounded better – nor has her messaging resonated stronger – than with her in the producer’s chair. “I just want people to understand that women can burn for each other… and it can be not just as compelling, but more compelling, even, than your average straight love story,” she told Lorusso. On Silver Tongue, she proves her point with aplomb.
Words by Andrew Ledford