They say timing is everything. The stifling heat of summer has arrived, school’s out, and the festival season kicked off with a sweaty, bikini-clad Bonnaroo this weekend, so “Doom Soul” may not be high on your list when your friend asks you to make an iPod mix for his next barbeque. However, the best album you’re not listening to was released two weeks ago, and you should make a note for later – while Cold Specks’ I Predict a Graceful Expulsion is not exactly summer-friendly, it is a spectacular debut project from Al Spx, a 23-year-old Canadian songwriter now living in London. Her mournful voice and bleak lyrics are so beautiful you may long for a rainy British day so you can curl up with a mug of tea and get all gloomy. That’s right - it’s so good it makes you wish you were sad, and foreign.
Cold Specks’ sound has a doomsday overtone that negates any gospel comparisons, although the clairvoyant power of Spx’s voice makes that the obvious starting point. Oh, and she says G*ddamn enough to make even a devout agnostic think twice about wailing along with her in the car. Opening with “The Mark,” a song that’s probably about child abuse, a single guitar and cello back up that voice, and introduce you to what you should be listening for as the central tracks add additional vocals and instruments. The initial simplicity melds into deconstructed discord with “Heavy Hands,” which should more appropriately be spelled “dis-chord” for this track. “Winter Solstice” – and again, timing – adds much fuller instrumentation to the overall sound, and throws in a quasi-Gregorian underlying vocal track. The song is more appropriate for a proletariat uprising or bread riot in the dead of winter than for a barbeque.
Chanting vocal back-ups are added into about half of the album, and further demonstrate how phenomenal Spx’s individual voice is to be able to compete. This album is 100% bullshit free, which is pretty refreshing given that it was released smack in the middle of the tsunami of over-produced summer pop. When even the cool guys at NPR have fallen prey to Carly Rae Jepsen’s sunny siren’s call (and we here at CG are not entirely immune, either – call us, Carly Rae) we need a reminder that the darker moments of summer deserve a great soundtrack, too. When your ex brings someone new to your friend’s barbeque, when someone steals your bike and leaves three lengths of cut chain as a reminder of wind in your hair, when you get a flat on the way to the festival and miss your favorite band, then you’ll need Cold Specks. It’s not soothing. Al Spx will not make you feel better. But you’ll know someone out there can commiserate.
“When the City Lights Dim” has a full horn backup, and when the horns start mid-way through you just have to sit back and take a deep breath - this is an album that doesn’t run quietly in the background. A sparse dulcimer in “Blank Maps” is like a reward for paying attention. “Lay Me Down” closes the album, and strips back to single instrumentation with Spx’s voice and lyrics at the forefront, again to remind you of the best part of the entire album.
One good listen and you’ll realize you can’t get this out of your head, so buy it now and wait for that first frost to slowly edge across the grass in front of your apartment building. I Predicat A Graceful Expulsion is an album you'll want on your turntable when the sun starts setting a little earlier, and the last of the festival trucks are packed up and gone.