Review – “Neuroplasticity” – Cold Specks

Layout 1reviewed by Michael Thomas

On July 31, Cold Specks played an intimate show in Toronto to preview her new tunes, and also gave the audience a window into her thoughts. Seems her soul-laid-bare “doom soul” isn’t something she wants to stick with, and Neuroplasticity is all the evidence needed to support that assertion.

The album title is a medical term that refers to the brain’s ability to adapt to changes. It’s also showing how Cold Specks’ songs have changed shape into something darker, while not losing that which makes Al Spx such a thrilling figure in Canada’s music scene.

“Dark” is the easiest way to describe Neuroplasticity—from the funereal opener “A Broken Memory” to the unexpected change in “A Formal Invitation.” Spx’s voice, which can easily bring on a good case of chills, adds an extra layer of mysticism to the at times chaotic instrumentals. In short, a lot more “doom” in “doom soul.”

First single “Absisto” is a good indication of both how much darker the music has gotten and also a reminder of how commanding Spx’s vocal presence is. While the the guitar at the beginning of the song is great at setting the mood, the song’s master stroke comes in a split second—for that split seconds, it sounds like the song will “simmer down,” but then it explodes into a frenzy.

“Exit Plan” and “Let Loose the Dogs” also both benefit from  their unpredictability. “Exit Plan” begins with the simple guitar picking you’d hear on I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, complete with beautiful lines like “An armful of love, we could not grasp.” But suddenly the drums come in and the songs gets more powerful. It features another momentous line as the song get bigger: “This will be an indecent year.” “Let Loose the Dogs” starts with a simple synth backing Spx’s voice, and it gets a little louder once the first minute rolls around.

The album features plenty more lyrical gems, like in the aforementioned funereal “A Broken Memory,” Among mournful trumpet and crunching guitar are lines like “All is calm, nothing is right.” “Old Knives” is positively sinister; while a much calmer foil to the propulsive “Bodies At Bay,” its sparser melody allows Spx to drive in the proverbial knife. “Every old knife rusting in my back/I will drive into yours,” is an eerily poignant image and unforgettable lyric.

Closer “A Season of Doubt” closes the album in a style Spx has never done before. With a few notes of piano behind the same mournful horn from the opener, the song brings to mind Radiohead’s “Life in a Glass House.” While the Radiohead track was a take on global warming, this track is filled with confusion and sadness. “And we move like wolves in the bleak night/And we dance like ghosts deprived of flight” is another couple of lines that show an uncanny knack for grasping memorable phrases. “I’ve got an unrelenting desire to fall apart” are the last lines of the album, ending on the same gloom that opened it.

This is a completely different Cold Specks. And that’s okay.

Neuroplasticity will officially drop tomorrow, on August 26, 2014.

Top Tracks: “A Quiet Chill”; “A Season of Doubt”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) +*swoop*

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