It's a shitty reflex to collate goodness and nostalgia, but then again, being a millennial and trying form an objective thought is a distinctly shitty endeavor.
The '90s-wave grunge comparisons abound for Mackenzie Scott, the 24-year-old Brooklyn-by-way-of-Nashville siren who bills herself as Torres. The Cranberries, Living Colour, Bush, Live -- all crowbar into the sentimental mind of a '90s kid taking in Torres's latest album, Sprinter, but all are unfair comparisons.
As Scott and her band took the stage at the 7th St. Entry on Wednesday night, she lit a sprig of incense and quietly trailed the smoke around stage. It was unclear what spirits she was trying to conjure with the ritual, but it's a safe bet it wasn't Shirley Manson.
Incense extinguished, Torres wordlessly slipped into "Son You Are No Island," a dizzying whir of a song wherein Scott devilishly modulates her voice. On stage, there is no flange in her vocals -- the song is undecorated, and Scott's bellow frenzied the snare drum's wires as the mic shrieked feedback into the monitors. I resisted the urge to collapse into grunge metaphors, but I got swallowed by my birthright. People weaned on flannel and distortion are incapable of experiencing Torres in absolute.
The next song was "New Skin." During the performance, Scott ripped through a disavowment of marriage, her cheeks quivering with intensity as she moaned through the chorus. In that moment, I was struck with a familiar annoyance. Who did she remind me of? In the song's bridge, where Scott and her guitarist cut curt little riffs that bop with their pogo dance, it hit me -- Billie Joe Armstrong.
Here's an artist who, on her monument of a sophomore album, set out to voice a deity, and here I was listening as she devours the mic on "Sprinter," and the only salient thought I could conjure was "goddamn, this reminds me of 4 Non Blondes."
Nostalgia is more than a manipulation device invented by Don Draper to sell Kodak slide carousels. It's a sinkhole of conveniences -- a referential den of context where artists perform as shadows of their predecessors -- and no one is more susceptible to its gravity than those born two decades ago.
It takes a furious light to strike those depths, and Torres finally burned her way through the fog with "A Proper Polish Welcome." On a night devoid of polish, this song's achingly wrought conclusion was the pearl. Meditative but still sinister, Scott drew out the chorus to a whisper, carefully threading her guitar into the silence. The precedents didn't come. My lexicon of allusions, for the first time, failed.
Kids in the 1990s weren't angsty because living under George H.W. Bush made it trendy; they were angsty because they figured out that catharsis births great music. The dream of the '90s is that the decade's aesthetic is not temporary, and Torres's transcendence last night proved that you can't ascribe the disenchantment of youth ("Sprinter"), aging ("Strange Hellos"), and religion ("The Harshest Light") to a single generation.
Torres closed her nine-song set with "November Baby," the dynamic manifesto that fills the middle of her 2013 debut, Torres. The din of guitar and keyboard filled the room with noise and distraction as a bassline brooded in the background, eventually stirring vocals. Wye Oak, I thought for a second, maybe Modest Mouse. Then, Scott's voice growled up from the soup of feedback. Fleetwood Mac? No. The song swept up into a triumphant final push. Then applause.
Every comparable name dissolved.
Critic's bias: Sprinter is the only album I've listened to this month. Did I also mention I was alive in the 1990s?
Notes on the opener: Aero Flynn's drummer is a goddamn machine. Seriously. He pounded brass and canvas in like he was programmed to jam a steady stomp into your knee socket.
Overheard in the crowd: (Following "Sprinter") "That was a cold piece, I know you finna drop something ugly!"Setlist: Son, You Are No Island New Skin Sprinter A Proper Polish Welcome Cowboy Guilt Strange Hellos Honey The Harshest Light November Baby
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