This weekend, The A.V. Club is highlighting two new releases we think should be on your radar: Yola’s new album, Stand For Yourself, and the fifth full-length from Torres, Thirstier.
In their new essay My Gender Is Maximalism, Britni De La Cretaz writes that “maximalism also feels inherently queer in that it is entirely extra.” A similarly joyous exploration of the liberating power of too much drives Thirstier, the fifth album from Mackenzie Scott, a.k.a. Torres. The insatiability implied by its title permeates Thirstier, which, according to Scott’s label, Merge Records, “wonders what could happen if we found a way to make our fantasies inexhaustible.” In practical terms, that means the ebb and swell of bombastic rock ‘n’ roll, pairing heartfelt lyrics celebrating queer love (“The more of you I drink / The thirstier I get,” Scott sings on the title track) with walls of guitar.
Not content to pick a style and stay with it—why should she?—Scott utilizes a range of tones on Thirstier, featuring everything from heavy grunge to uplifting stadium rock. Lead single “Don’t Go Putting Wishes In My Head,” a song with a full heart and a full sound, is an example of the latter. Meanwhile, opener “Are You Sleepwalking?” flits between banging its head and shimmying its shoulders with raw guitars and art-pop synths. We take a brief break in the middle of the record for the Liz Phair-esque “Drive Me” and the tender “Big Leap,” but just as each song plays with dynamics, so does the album as a whole.
In its second half, Thirstier grabs the listener by the hand and leads them through the crunchy ‘90s handclap chorus on “Hug From a Dinosaur” and the twinkling, tinny ‘80s drum machine that drives “Hand In The Air,” with Scott’s lusty, powerful vocals serving as a through line. “Everybody wants to go to heaven / But nobody wants to die to get there,” Scott chants on closer “Keep the Devil Out,” a song with a boundless imagination and a euphoric, chaotic churn. Torres isn’t afraid to dream big dreams, feel big feelings, and make noise. Are you?
“It was easier to sing than stand for myself,” Yola wails over her sophomore album’s scorching closer, a track that gives Stand For Myself its name and doubles as its mission statement. Coming from the Nashville-by-way-of-Bristol musician, that lyric resonates on a deeper level, and not just because of her powerhouse vocals. For years, Yola worked as a vocalist with other artists like Katy Perry, Massive Attack, and Iggy Azalea. But it wasn’t until her proper solo debut Walk Through Fire was met with critical acclaim and four Grammy nominations that she was able to see the true power of her voice.
Emboldened and in control, a new sense of purpose fuels Yola’s sophomore effort. Where Walk Through Fire charmed with nostalgic tales of love and loss in the Americana tradition, Stand For Myself hums with urgency, each song an exploration of identity and Black womanhood. Lead single “Diamond Studded Shoes” is a vibrant rallying cry to the working class in the vein of Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5,” and the ballad “Be My Friend” a plea for allyship accompanied by fellow country trailblazer Brandi Carlile. Reuniting with producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Yola maintains her signature throwback sound while drawing from a wider sonic palette: Elements of an early disco groove can be heard on tracks like “Dancing Away In Tears,” and highlight “Break The Bough” evokes the mighty rock ’n’ roll showmanship of Tina Turner.
No matter where the music takes her, Yola’s voice remains her greatest instrument—one that can either belt like no other, or float by on a soft falsetto. When she croons “let go of yourself for a new beginning” in Stand By Myself’s namesake finale, it’s like she’s calling out from the other side, begging you to follow her into a brighter future.