Review Summary: New beginnings are never easy
A few years back, I decided to take my life. I popped the lid off a pill bottle, downed the contents, and laid down on the sofa awaiting the inevitable. As everything started spinning around me, a voice piped up in the back of my head - "Damn, man, why'd you do this? You're still so young, so much life ahead of you, something nice would have happened to you at some point eventually." I immediately regretted the shortsightedness of my decision. The pills turned out to not be quite enough to off me, and since then the memory of this event has been enough to stop me from attempting to kill myself again no matter how grim the circumstances. The same spirit emanates from "Waterfall", a track from Torres's debut album, with the passionate delivery of lines such as "do you ever make it halfway down and think - God, I never meant to jump at all" doing an impeccable job of conveying this rattled state teetering on the brink of disaster. Torres showed herself to be a master of all sorts of bleak and dark inclinations of the psyche across her first two releases, with Sprinter seemingly busting down the door to an established, fruitful career with its smattering of ferocity and accessibility.
Three Futures veers off at a tangent, musically ignoring most of where Torres has roamed previously. The record is packed full of subtle, throbbing electronics, with the guitar being largely relegated to a buzzing counterpoint to chorus vocal melodies. The fuzzy workouts are more distracting than intriguing, fiercely clashing with Torres's delivery. Not even some attempts at aloof, quirky mannerisms on her part manage to make things really gel. The fact that Torres reveals herself to be a restless musical chameleon doesn't do Three Futures any favours, as with this sort of style the devil is in the detail more so than ever, and the quick and forcible pounce away from the grunge tinge of Sprinter does not let her establish her new habitat to a sufficient standard. Another possible consequence is that the record feels somewhat derivative, with St. Vincent being a major influence. Torres's new label (St. Vincent's old home) may not be fully to blame - she is a self-professed superfan, and the name of the very record that's most akin to what's happening on here has adorned her left forearm since 2014.
Sadly, the fact the main attraction and the instrumental backdrop are at odds with each other isn't even the main problem with Three Futures. It seems that after years of being torn in all sorts of ways from the clash of her conservative, religious upbringing with the surrounding reality, Mackenzie has found some degree of inner peace. The tracks are all still sincere and competent, but the bulk fails to engage - she's had years of experience, and probably a natural aptitude for, channeling the darker moments of human existence into haunting songs. The subjects tackled on Three Futures are largely new ground, and Torres is learning on the fly, against the grain of what she knew how to manifest before. Compare "Greener Stretch" to "Waterfall" - a slight shift in perspective on the same subject results in a forgettable mid-album romp. The vocal highlights of the record are "Skim", where a particularly painful instrumental arrangement butchers a quick slip back into her old insecure ways, "Helen in the Woods" tapping into the same psychotic side that showed up in the voice cracks of "Strange Hellos", and the standout eight-minute closer dripping with an elated thankfulness for the miracle of life. "To Be Given A Body" also happens to be the last song penned for the record. Maybe Torres just needs some more practice at getting her new perspective on life across?