Every time I read Al Spx’s name in print, I want to swap her pseudo-surname with Sphinx. Put aside the finer points of Greek mythology (like suicides and murder) and focus instead on posing riddles, putting up barriers that requires access be granted, and taking on a form larger than life, and it’s not too much of a stretch.
My first exposure to Cold Specks came in a cryptic email back in June of 2011, addressed to be my name and including a SoundCloud link, that said:
“Today is the first time my music has found it’s way onto the internet and I though it might be worth sending you the only track I have so far. You seem to post a few bands I have a lot of love for so maybe if you have five minutes you could let me know what you think. Taylor from Timber Timbre helped me get my music out there after I played a backyard show. I’m from Canada but live in the UK now.”
What can one make of such scant information? Not a lot, but thankfully the link proved to speak volumes, for it took me to listen to “Holland”, the song that, for many of us, has become the gateway drug to Cold Specks’ self-styled “doom soul”. I was mesmerized, as I’m sure many of you were, and intrigued by the enigmatic soul stirring behind that voice.
A fully formed full length album hasn’t shed any more light on the mystery that is Cold Specks. It’s safe to say that I Predict a Graceful Expulsion has added more layers of mystification to Spx’s story, and not just by way of the record’s baffling title. For all of the buzz-baiting hipster hype that surrounded Cold Specks in the months after her appearance on Later… with Jules Holland in her adopted home, the record itself was almost “anti-hip”. In reality, it was an expulsion of all the preconceived notions about what it would signify in the musical landscape, and managed to do so with poise and confidence; gracefully, if you will.
This re-cap isn’t about the album’s mythology, though, it’s about its music, and its place on a short list of 10 records in contention for a prize. Since its release in May, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion has frequently featured on my sound system at home, almost exclusively listened to as a whole record, and always with a sense of longing. More and more, I find the restraint and tension built on songs like opener “The Mark” and “Steady” leaving me frustrated. Spx’s spare and understated arrangements bring me to the emotional brink but rarely allow me to engage with the music deeply. It’s as if my would-be lover has drawn me in for a kiss, but at the last possible moment has held me back by a tender yet firm hand on my chest. I need more intimacy–more trust–than that if this relationship is to carry forward, but I’m willing to be patient a little while longer. The incredibly beautiful and epic sounding “Winter Solstice” is reason enough to stick around, while “When the City Lights Dim” offers a glimpse of what could be: the beautiful union of a unique voice and classic soul/R&B swagger. She may still be a puzzle to me, but I’m working on unraveling the mysteries of Cold Specks, one song at a time.
Tags: Cold Specks