Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Arts & Crafts
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
If you've already heard Al Spx describe her music under the moniker Cold Specks as 'doom soul', disregard whatever weird sounding preconception you have of this record. While that unfortunate compound-genre label makes Cold Specks sound like some sort of here today, gone tomorrow fad pedaller, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion is actually a traditional and tender gospel outing; a gorgeously human (although unapologetically spiritual) collection of songs, executed with total earnestness - not one jot of blog-baiting hipster irony present. It's not too often that alternative music throws up choruses like “I am, I am, I am a god-damn believer” with po faced sincerity, and it's even less often that such present-age spiritualism then goes on to stick the landing.
COLD SPECKS opens up for Great Lake Swimmers June 2 at the Music Hall. See listing. Rating: NNNN It's sad that some Canadian listeners will approach Etobicoke's Cold Specks (aka Al Spx) with suspicion due to the impressive hype she's already provoked in the UK. Turns out that in this case you can believe the hype.
Cold SpecksI Predict A Graceful Expulsion[Mute; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; May 21, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThe story goes that Al Spx – aka Cold Specks – is a false name, created by the 24 year-old Canadian to divert attention away from her real family name. However, it’s the fact that they simply don’t approve of her career in music, rather than actually protecting them that’s the issue, and consequently we’re left with the rumour of a backstory that hints at rejection, discouragement, and the desire to break free. It’s the wonderful kind of promotional fodder that a music critic laps right up.
Cold Specks is Al Spx, a 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Etobicoke, Ontario who was signed to Mute earlier this year on the strength of an arresting demo. Spx-- the peculiar name is a pseudonym, invented to protect a devout and apparently disapproving family-- has the disoriented air of someone who's come further than she expected, and sooner: In interviews, she's shown some difficulty recalling the names of all her new bandmates and confesses she still occasionally gets ill before live performances. When she begins singing, you understand the fuss: If you were, say, Frankie Sharp from Sharp Records, this is the sort of voice that makes you whip the big limo around.
The golden, honeyed tones of Cold Specks—stage name of Canadian songstress Al Spx—are hard to ignore. Her fervent gospel voice, full of heritage as it is, has boundless character to it: "Well I am, I am/I am, I am a god damn believer," she growls on "Blank Maps." Pairing this timeless voice with elegant production touches—the beautifully sparing use of a cello, offset by shimmering, upper-register guitar notes on "Holland," for example—allows these songs to fulfill their heart-stopping potential. .
The young singer-songwriter known as Al Spx might be using a stage name to maintain her anonymity, but she won’t be able to keep her identity under wraps for long if Cold Specks’ first album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion is an indication of what she’s capable of. As the story goes, the 24-year-old Spx took on a pseudonym so as not to embarrass a family that frowned upon her chosen career path and left her suburban Toronto home for London to work with some veteran musician types after her ad-hoc recordings piqued their interest. Making, well, a name for herself in a short period of time, Spx isn’t likely to go back into some kind of indie witness protection program, not with an attention-grabbing performance on Jools Holland under her belt and word-of-mouth spreading on both sides of the Atlantic.
Born in Canada, based in England, and wielding a bold, weary, and war-torn voice that falls somewhere between Mahalia Jackson and Stevie Nicks, self-proclaimed "doom soul" singer/songwriter Al Spx (Cold Specks) sounds like she just stepped out of an old Dust Bowl-era photograph and into a brand-new Depression. Her Mute Records debut, the appropriately titled I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, straddles both periods, weaving a somber web of modern indie folk woe built atop a foundation of weathered gospel and blues. Slow, sure, and relentlessly intimate -- imagine if Antony and the Johnsons had hailed from America's Deep South instead of West Sussex -- Spx approaches love, faith, hope, and guilt with both youthful angst and the cool ambivalence of Nick Cave, leaning toward the light of redemption, while keeping one hand out for the flames to lick.
Regardless of the unfortunate album title Cold Specks chose for a first release, which reads quite foul if taken grossly out of context, it draws a parallel with main songwriter Al Spx’s sudden rise of attention. Like that fateful day when producer Jim Anderson heard her knockout voice in a demo for the first time, the Canadian singer/guitarist took it upon herself to drop out of school, fly to the U.K. and record her debut, in spite of of her family’s approval.
There is, of course, a great deal to be said for the virtues of a gleaming set of pipes, regurgitating their keeper’s soul through a larynx so vast it could swallow black holes. But listening in on the quiet storm at the heart of Toronto’s Cold Specks, namely mainlady Al Spx (an alias – she’s undercover from her disapproving parents), you kind of feel you’ve been shortchanged.Not by its ambition – ‘Blank Maps’’ refrain of “[i]I am, I am/A goddamn believer[/i]” is bizarrely compelling, at once grand yet also gentle. Nor by the post-Arcade Fireisms all over the bare bones and The xx-evoking gospel of ‘Winter Solstice’.
When Al Spx, who is Cold Specks, first appeared on Jools Holland last year, it was with an acoustic performance that suggested she might be striving for bluesy authenticity, in a scratchy, Alan Lomax sort of way. Her debut album, however, is surprising in its richness: there are strings and choral vocals aplenty, giving much of it the weightiness of hymns. No doubt this is deliberate.
When mysterious, pseudonymous Canadian singing guitarist Al Spx first surfaced last year, her self-taught strangeness was as captivating as a field recording from the Deep South. Some of that strangeness survives on her debut, on the final track Lay Me Down, and in patches elsewhere. There's chilling, unspoken violence on the first two tracks and a "Rotterdam, goddamn" opening to the intriguing Holland, which might echo Nina Simone.
Cold Specks, aka Canada’s Al Spx, will release her debut album ‘I Predict A Graceful Expulsion’ next week (21st May) so we asked her to talk us through the album, track by track, in an exclusive guide to her ‘Doom Soul’ album.1. The MarkShockingly, this song initially started out as a short noise-pop song full of distortion and reverb. I went over to my producer Jim’s apartment to work on some songs one day.
Cold Specks is the project of singer/songwriter Al Spx, and on her debut album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, she brings together gospel, folk and undertones of the goth world to create what she calls “doom soul.” The album’s short and sweet opener, “The Mark,” is only two minutes long. But the brief offering introduces Spx’s weathered voice and delicate guitar work, and they are enough to convince you to move further into her dark world. A few songs in comes “Winter Solstice,” incorporating piano keys and a powerful drumbeat.
Rye Rye The Baltimore rapper Rye Rye has been announcing her debut album, “Go! Pop! Bang!” (N.E.E.T./Interscope) since 2009, when she was still a teenager. At the time her brash, rapidfire rhymes and skeletal electro tracks had been embraced by M.I.A., who took her on tour and signed her to her ….
After a long lead-up, during which former Etobicoke, ON resident Al Spx's has seen her rather humble origin story championed, dissected and picked apart, we finally get her debut, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. Does it warrant all the ink and pixels the now-London, UK-based singer has garnered since "Holland" started popping up online last summer? Well, there's no denying that Spx's voice is remarkable, reeking of American Southern gospel. And many of the songs on the record hinge on her voice alone ("Holland" being the best of the bunch).