When it came time to pick a producer for the follow-up to her 2013 self-titled debut, Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres) decided to enlist PJ Harvey’s longtime drummer Rob Ellis, who in turn recruited several of his buddies, including Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley. That’s pretty heady company for a 24-year-old self-described “Baptist girl” from Macon, Ga., who just a year earlier was studying musical composition at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.The resulting record, Sprinter , which dropped in May, is full of emotive, raw-nerved tunes, none more powerful than “New Skin,” which — no surprise — sounds like Harvey during her big Rock phase (see 2000’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea ).Yet when asked recently by Spin about the biggest influences on Sprinter , Scott curiously failed to mention Harvey.
“I’ll go with what I’ve been listening to the past few years: Nirvana, Funkadelic, a lot of St. Vincent, and Brian Eno, Kate Bush and a little bit of the Magnetic Fields.”
Sprinter’s title track, another Harvey-esque tune with shifting dynamics, seems to delve into Scott’s religious upbringing: “I was a sprinter then/Living to see it end/Well, pastor lost his position/Went down for pornography.” The gorgeous, slow-burning “A Proper Polish Welcome” is more ambiguous, using a sea metaphor with particular effectiveness.
Yet for all of Sprinter’s satisfying sonic flourishes, Scott’s voice remains the centerpiece. The nearly eight-minute album closer, “The Exchange,” which floats by on acoustic guitar and chirping birds, is a prime example — spare and intimate, her voice transcends whatever particular words might be falling from her mouth.