Music

Cold Specks: I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

The young singer-songwriter known as Al Spx might be using a pseudonym to maintain her anonymity, but she won’t be able to keep her identity under wraps for long, thanks to a stunning debut.


Cold Specks

I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2012-05-22
UK Release Date: 2012-05-21
Amazon
iTunes

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.

Indeed, it’s hard not to notice that I Predict a Graceful Expulsion stands out as a stunning debut effort, not just because of Spx’s one-of-a-kind songwriting perspective, but also thanks to a level of musicianship that’s more proficient and wise than you’d expect from someone with her limited experience. Maybe it’s her backstory that’s garnered almost all the publicity up to now, but Graceful Expulsion wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without her preternatural gifts to express herself as a performer. That’s obvious on a number like “Heavy Hands”, which brings to mind Cat Power’s Chan Marshall in her prime, as Spx’s raw, soul-searching voice is lifted by plucked guitar and melancholy fiddling. On “Winter Solstice”, Spx digs deep into herself in order to reach out to her listeners, with her rich vocals growing more and more resonant as the instrumentation builds steadily to simmering piano chords, rising string movements, and choir-like background singing. Showing a deft, intuitive touch for tender orchestration, Spx is able to draw out the drama in an organic way.

While Spx herself describes her approach as “doom soul”, there’s something to her music that parts the dark clouds that have come with her predicament, as if she seeks and finds transcendence by delving further into what she’s gone through. Even though it’s marked with harrowing, self-examining lines like “You cut me open / Just to see what’s within”, there’s a juxtaposition of moods on “Elephant Head” that expresses both an ambivalence and a sense of anticipation for what the future holds. So when Spx sings the lyric that makes up the album’s title -- “I predict a graceful expulsion” -- she does so understanding the weight of what those words mean, at the same time that she sees an opportunity to shed her emotional baggage for good, as the angelic backing vocals seem to suggest. With a searching, redemptive tone set by crisp percussion and a stirring string arrangement, the ashes-to-ashes sentiments of “Holland” don’t come off pessimistic or fatalistic (“Into dust we will all return”) -- instead, they find a commonality in the most fundamental of experiences we all share, which Spx conveys in the chorus of “We are many / We are many / We are dust”.

If anything, many of Spx’s most memorable refrains come not from a first-person singular perspective, but from a first-person plural one. So even though one might safely assume that Graceful Expulsion is autobiographical, its stories aren’t really Spx’s alone. That’s because Spx connects her own trials and tribulations to what others have endured, seeking community through her intimate music rather than singer-songwriter isolation. Hers is not just an individual narrative, no matter how particular Spx’s bio is, like when she yearns for a collective catharsis on the single “Blank Maps”, wailing, “We were good children / Darling, let it out”. Even more compelling is the album’s most fleshed-out number, the slow-building “Steady”, on which Spx comes off like she’s sick and tired of getting caught up in her own head as she conjures up a rallying cry with the chorus, “We have caught fire / The night is ours”.

Sure, some of Spx’s lyrics can be oblique, falling back on the natural gravitas of her voice to get her self-reflecting mood across. And there are times when her folk-tinged sound can meander a bit when she’s not pushing her rich compositions to their full and logical development. Then again, it can’t be easy to stay so intense all the time when you’re facing your private demons in such a public way. All in all, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion is a pretty finished product for a work-in-progress by someone who’s still growing into the kind of artist and person she wants to be.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.