They say that all the best art is born from misery and I tend to agree. My favourite bands are the likes of Radiohead, The National, and The Twilight Sad – all doom mongerers of a different kind. My favourite book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy – a novel so miserable that it even features a dead infant roasting on a fire at one point. And if you can find a film that makes me cry then you’ll have found my new favourite film. So that might be why my first few listens to the latest Torres album weren’t that successful. This is not an album dredged up from the pits of the despair, put through the grinder of anxiety and depression until something cathartic and therapeutic comes pumping out the other side. This is, in fact, an album of pure joy. I only got into Torres last year with the release of the exceptional Silver Tongue, but have since explored her catalogue and found myself hugely drawn in by the mix of tension and emotional release that make her music so involving. The sense of teetering on the edge of breaking point. But on Thirstier, that breaking point seems like it has been left firmly in the past – and it might take a while to get your head around what that means for the music.
So what has Torres got to be so happy about? Well, she makes that abundantly clear at every moment of Thirstier – and never more so than on the superb title song. Here she sings about the nuances of her new love, the ways her and her partner test each other in order to enhance what seems to be a ridiculously fulfilling and rejuvenating relationship. In the rousing chorus she asks her ‘baby’ to ‘keep me in your fantasties’ and tells her that the ‘more of you I drink, the thirstier I get.’ This loved up feeling is given more intensity in the surprisingly fun and carefree ‘Hug From A Dinosaur’. This song starts with the lines ‘lord girl, you’re the best of all possible worlds/Before my wild joy, who was I if not yours?’ It’s an empathic and undoubtable expression of emotion – and it’s an emphatic and undoubtable song. But it is also one of the songs that seems most jarring in the first few listens, given that is so removed from the Torres we have grown to love.
Sonically, the song ‘Don’t Go Putting Wishes In My Head’ is much closer to what we’ve come to expect from Torres. It has that slightly grungy ballad feel. But once again we are dealing with a much happier protagonist, admitting that she is allowing herself to think that this current coupling is forever. ‘Big Leap’ slows things down in the same way that ‘Gracious Day’ did on Silver Tongue, and the opening verse about someone falling ‘thirty feet’ and breaking their ‘body on the concrete of the Georgia heat’ makes you think that the Torres of old might be on her way back in. But even this song, in the end, seems to find a way back to joy.
So what has Torres done to stop this endless happiness from getting boring? Well, she’s created her most musically diverse and adventurous album yet. Like ‘Hug From A Dinosaur’, songs such as ‘Drive Me’ and ‘Hand In The Air’ add a bit of a sludgy element to her normally pristine indie sound. ‘Kiss The Corners’ goes almost glitchy – and is one of the more successful among the experiments on the album. Closer ‘Keep The Devil Out’ offers an almost industrial squeal and, for me, is the one song that really should have stayed on the cutting room floor. But even though this song doesn’t really do it for me, I do admire the sentiment – not all of the experiments on this album work, but Torres seems to have found a new permission to try things and she should only be lauded for that.
All this variation, along with the joyful mood, makes this quite an unexpected album from Torres at this point in her career. But give it some time. If you can accept that happy people can make good music too, then this will eventually seep into your bones. It’s a bit of a blissful mess, but then how can we expect someone who is clearly so full of new relationship joy to make an album that is entirely cohesive. Just sit back and let the happiness wash over you – then stick the most depressing Radiohead song you can think of on to set yourself back to your default position.
Words by Fran Slater