After her simmering and intimate self-titled debut earned Torres comparisons to PJ Harvey, Mackenzie Scott joined forces with a couple of Harvey's crew for her ambitious sophomore album, Sprinter. Co-produced by Scott and longtime PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis and recorded in Dorset, England, the record also has contributions from the powerful English singer/songwriter's occasional bassist Ian Olliver and guitarist/producer Adrian Utley of Portishead. However raw the lyrics and vocals may have been on Torres' debut, she kicks them up two notches on Sprinter, with grittier electric guitar accompaniment and rockier arrangements to boot. The album opens with foreboding muted staccato strums, and Scott's exhausted-sounding voice quietly offering, "Heather, I'm sorry that your mother/Diseased in the brain/Cannot recall your name." "Strange Hellos" goes on to explode into a minor-key, low-range angst rocker. It's a good signal of what's to come, bracing listeners for challenging emotional and sonic weight throughout the record in the form of heavy drums and guitar, judiciously placed dissonance, aggressively frustrated vocals, and dark introspection. It's hard to tell if Torres has a great voice or not; that's not really what the performances are about. The vocals function only to deliver the lyrics here -- to reveal, cry, yell, ponder, defy -- not so often to melodize or even to rock. On the nearly eight-minute stripped-down ballad "The Exchange," she sing-talks, tenuously, drawing focus to the meaning and not musical tone. Musically, the album is a bit short on songcraft -- soft intros that run into a wall of grungy guitar and busy drums and cymbals nearly become predictable, and narrow-range repetition that's likely a device to drive home lyrical sincerity can still be tedious at times. However, those relentlessly open lyrics ("There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do/To show you that I've got the sadness, too"), exertion-filled vocals, steady but energized darkness, and solid production work together to accomplish something impactful via other means. Whether Sprinter is the arrival of a young, fearless, emotionally forthright, and intense writer and vocalist or a no-holds-barred attempt to make waves that ultimately tries too hard is up to whether listeners find her believable, and Scott pushes those boundaries and buttons on this record. Those who go along with her for the ride will likely connect strongly; Sprinter is not for passive listening.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson