Three Futures shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have followed Mackenzie Scott’s work as TORRES, yet it still feels wholly unexpected. Scott had hinted for a little while at leaving her initial, rock-leaning sound behind on Splinter, when she tossed experimental flourishes like “Cowboy Guilt” in among more straightforward songs. On Three Futures, those experiments are writ large and given some room to breathe. This sort of high-concept, enveloping piece of work is what many artists before Scott have tried to create in some way or another. What makes Three Futures so rewarding, though, is how it completely wraps the listener into the strange, wonderful world it creates.
While Scott’s past work as TORRES sought to at least try to welcome new, unfamiliar listeners in, Three Futures does away with any gestures towards accessibility. There’s little in terms of pop here; anyone expecting Scott to become the equivalent of St. Vincent in terms of high-concept ideas paired with accessibility will be sorely disappointed. Much of Three Futures is alienating; its bleak, electronic machinations conjure images of oppression and despair. Yet Scott exudes confidence throughout. Whereas her previous records were visceral reactions to her circumstances, Three Futures feels like the result of an internal struggle, its glitching beats and squealing guitars acting as interpretations of eternal struggles she seems oddly at peace with. Listening to Three Futures is akin to exploring someone’s damaged psyche, and the album’s various twists and turns make it an uneasy listen at times.
Yet, for as much as Scott may appear to keep the listener at arm’s length, she’s also very much aware of sex and sexuality on Three Futures. On “Righteous Woman,” Scott embraces a more traditionally masculine persona, declaring herself to be “more of an ass man” before making a reference to man-spreading. “To Be Given a Body” is devoted entirely to the gift of the corporeal form, taking lines from Saint Paul and applying a more earthly context. Most pointedly, “Helen in the Woods” tells a story of feminine obsession run amok with the intention of drawing our focus towards the way female sexuality is dismissed and treated as bizarre and dangerous. The album’s meditations on sex aren’t sexy, though; they, instead, highlight the awkward, unseemly side of sexuality. Scott’s concerns are less about pleasure and more about her (and our) capacity to feel both good and bad things.
It’s hard to say whether or not Three Futures is an important piece of work. It certainly strives to be one, but Scott’s songwriting approach can be so arch at times that it feels slightly pretentious. It certainly isn’t the sort of album one can just throw on and leave playing as background noise, either. However, if one gives in to the album’s demands, the resulting experience can be both harrowing and thrilling. It takes quite a bit of nerve to shift as dramatically as Scott has here, but Three Futures is well worth going along for the ride.