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Music Review: Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion

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I Predict A Graceful Expulsion is the début album from Canadian-born, British-based singer-songwriter Al Spx (stage name Cold Specks). Al has categorised herself as “doom soul” and the tracks do have a quiet, thunderous feel to them. I would class her music as soul folk, with hints of gospel and I think a slight Eastern sound to some of the instrumentation. Her voice makes me think of Tracy Chapman and Macy Gray.

Most of the tracks on the album start off soft, slow, and quite floaty. There is a low electronic, almost drone-like sound to the production which envelops the tracks and lifts them out of the acoustic ballad arena into something more unique and interesting. The first track, “The Mark”, is soft and floaty in tempo and sound, with gentle cello and acoustic guitar, but also a strong grainy vocal by Spx that’s underpinned by a gentle male harmony (by Peter Roberts). It’s a short track, as are many of the songs on the album. “Heavy Hands” follows a similar pattern, a short track with a slow build into a fuller quivering sound with slide, electric and acoustic guitar, saxophone, cello, harmonium, pianochord, and phonofiddle.

The next track, “Winter Solstice”, features piano as the main instrument which then builds with a thundering drum beat and Spx’s strong vocal. The quivering sound of a theremin and electric guitar can be heard on “When the City Lights Dim”, an intricate and electrifying soul folk track.

Percussion is light on the album up until “Winter Solstice” and there is a definite pulse towards the end of this track, similar to “Winter Solstice” but much lighter. Then on “Hector”, the hi-hat comes in, with drums beating out a clear and driving rhythm that has a dark quality to it. “Hector” is my second-favourite track (after “Blank Maps”) because it has echoes of Suzanne Vega in the rhythm and the inflection of Spx’s vocals.  A main lyric in “Hector” is “keep it brief”, which seems to be a theme on the album. It does feel like some of the tracks have been deliberately clipped.

“Holland” plays with time in a dreamy way, starting with triplets and a cello. After a gap comes a percussive plodding beat, then a change in time, followed by quiet. It’s like a short musical prayer. “Elephant Head” starts slow and dreamy, then builds to a driving lyric and beat. “Send Your Youth” is similar to “Heavy Hands” in tone, with delicate horn and piano instrumentation.

A standout track on the album is “Blank Maps”, where Spx’s voice has a beautiful soulful resonance. There’s a clear, straightforward rhythm and easier-to-follow top line melody, with a hook that leaves a memorable impression in the listener. Pixophone, marxophone, and a muffled synth piano are evident on this track, giving it a unique electrosoul sound.

The next track, “Steady”, has an almost Eastern sound, with its bowed guitar and two-note plucking. The vocal is the main instrument on this track, which again has that ascending percussive beat accompanying the grainy, soulful vocal. “Lay Me Down” maintains the Eastern plucked string sound. A gentle percussive beat sounds from between the strong, slow vocal, accompanied by rising choral voices in the chorus section.

Spx’s voice is calming, grainy, and soulful, but it is also capable of reaching out and grabbing. I am looking forward to hearing more work by this artist. I hope she experiments more with the deep power in her voice.

Cold Specks are on tour at the moment in Germany and will be coming to Canada in March 2013. Visite the official Cold Specks site or their Mute page for more information.

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