Seeing as how Torres, the project of local songstress Mackenzie Scott, released her eponymous debut only a couple of weeks ago and has already earned glowing reviews from the likes of Pitchfork and, well, us, we thought it'd be appropriate to catch her in the flesh. And so we headed to her free release celebration at The Basement on Friday night, listening to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk while en route. What a fine, weird record of unlikely pop that is — and an appropriate soundtrack for a night, we hoped, of unlikely pop music with a bit of character.
Despite sharing their name with the Internet-era phenomenon, local newcomers and openers Catfish didn't seem to be peddling anything inauthentic. Rather, the four-piece created the sort of breezy, verby indie pop that you could say lands somewhere between Real Estate and Best Coast, or in a local context, maybe it's a bit like a less multidimensional Evan P. Donohue. There were layers of tuneful arrangement, not to mention occasional hints of Kurt Vile in frontman Joe Aiello's dry, straight-ahead baritone vocals. The Catfish youngsters clearly have an affinity for shoegaze, surf rock, New Wave, indie rock and punk, so we're curious to hear how they'll further flesh out their sound. Most definitely not a disappointing way to start off our evening.
Over at the other end of the pop spectrum, BF/GF Sex utilized hip-hop beats and heavily electronic instrumentation to make what could only be called "indie" due to the fact that the outfit is unsigned. No, this was pop in the broadest sense of the term, from frontwoman Hailey Collier's full-voiced bubblegum hooks to sidemen Cannon Kinnard and Neil O'Neil's gaudy flourishes — the latter of the two sidemen is known to us, of course, as a member of the radically less lascivious local outfits The Protomen and Cheer Up Charlie Daniels. BF/GF Sex, via songs with names like "Lose Control" and "Don't Care," attempts to be pop in the way that Robyn or Kylie Minogue or, hell, Gwen Stefani are pop: loud and flashy and unapologetic and sex-obsessed. Fair enough, we suppose.
The crowd, by this time at full capacity and consisting mostly of what appeared to be Belmont types, seemed semi-engaged and ready for Torres. There was a line out front awaiting entry as the club began enforcing a one-in-one-out policy, with some of the youngsters demonstrating less patience then others.
But back inside it was asses to elbows and as stuffy as can be. The crowd's excited whooping mostly died down once Scott started in on her smart, emotive and intermittently hushed indie-songwriter fare. Scott's Torres has fetched comparisons to Bat for Lashes as well as onetime Tennessean Sharon Van Etten, and it's easy to see why: These are performers who demonstrate what The Spin is comfortable calling empowered vulnerability — singing about heartache in confident voice and backed by a band, strings included, that follows her lead carefully. The excited response to Torres' breakout song "Honey" prompted the singer to say, "Don't, I'm gonna cry!" Yes, it seems people can identify with that sense of vulnerability Scott so naturally conveys, whether or not it's currently buzzworthy (which, of course, it is).
Scott called Scene/Cream fave Natalie Prass up to the stage for BGVs on "November Baby," and that was a treat, but we were most pleased to find that Scott knows how to utilize dynamics to her advantage: Her arrangements were blown out and aggressive at times, delicate and slight at others. She attacked some phrases with what our music-school-grad buddy would later tell us is a technique called "rinforzando" ... at least, we're fairly certain that's the term used to describe emphasizing certain phrases and laying back on others. Anyway, despite having hardly enough room to breathe, the set held our attention. Maybe Torres' first effort isn't quite as far-out and strange as Tusk, but for a debut batch of songs, it's pretty impressive.