Chills. It’s a word that I rarely use when I’m talking about music that I really like. But every once in a while there is a voice so expressive, so powerful and gripping. And that’s when I get that wonderful feeling one gets when they’re blown away by one’s vocal talent.
Al Spx possesses just such a voice. A Toronto native, she spent quite a bit of time in London, England before recently coming back to her home town. London must have been quite the inspiration for Spx’s music, as she has more or less created a genre that no one else can call her own: doom soul. Though the name came from a joke apparently, “doom soul” has stuck and it is the perfect way of describing Spx’s haunting and emotional music as Cold Specks.
It was fairly clear that I Predict A Graceful Expulsion would be a special album months before it even released. In December of 2011, Spx released the single “Holland” along with “Old Stepstone” as a b-side. “Holland” was the perfect choice- it shimmers with strings in the background and creates a beautiful melody to match Spx’s stunning voice. “Old Stepstone” is a completely a cappella tune, and it was further proof that there are few voices like Spx’s out there.
When the album came out, I was understandably excited. The full offering did not disappoint. The album is bookended by songs with simpler arrangements. “The Mark” is accompanied by simple acoustic guitar picking while “Lay Me Down” also features some piano on top. Both songs have a preoccupation with death, an interesting topic considering the album can be seen as a reference to birth.
The birth reference is most obvious in “Elephant Head,” a song that even references four Toronto subway stops. But as I mentioned in my review of the album, the birth seems to be of a great musician.
Voice aside, many of the musical arrangements are exquisitely set; they work as perfect backdrops. Look no further than “Blank Maps” for a good example. The song features a choir in the background to complement the song’s melancholic atmosphere. The instruments on “Hector” add to the song’s dark atmosphere.
One thing I’ve yet to comment on is Spx’s power. In interviews she’s said how she often feels nervous before performing, but you wouldn’t be able to tell after hearing song like “Heavy Hands,” for example. Or “Steady,” a song that builds a fantastic crescendo and has Spx singing “We have caught fire.”
When writing these articles I always try to end them with a reference to the act’s artistic merit. After all, that’s the main determinant of whether or not it will in the prize. In the case of Cold Specks, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion has plenty of it, both in the absolute command Spx has over her voice and in the fact that she has a genre of music to herself. How amazing would it be if the headline in the paper the next morning read “Doom soul wins the Polaris Prize”?
To quote a line from “Blank Maps”: I am, I am, I am, I am a goddamn believer.