In our latest podcast we head straight into the danger zone…of completely blown expectations. The gang takes on Neuroplasticity, the latest from “doom soul” purveyor Cold Specks, and the results aren’t quite what Kevin expected. PLUS! All of the Sturgill Simpson gushing this week isn’t over, as Kevin and Adam recall Simpson’s barn-burning performance at the legendary Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA. All of this and brand new way to get in touch with us to reward those who stick with us to the end of Episode 78 of ChunkyGlasses: The Podcast.
Last week space wizard Jim James came down from the outer reaches of the Zebulon star system for a while to pay a visit to the good people of Washington, DC. As such visits from purveyors of magic can often go, it was a little weird, a little wonderful, at times a little bit frustrating, but in the end it was a cosmic, creative ride through one man’s tiny little corner of the cosmos.
Revered as one of the premier vocalists of his generation - scratch that - ANY generation, James is a frighteningly fearless musician who has driven the My Morning Jacket train to impossible heights with his savagely golden voice, seemingly endless enthusiasm, and unabashed love for what he does. It’s no exaggeration to say that MMJ is one of the best, if not the best, live bands performing today, so when James released his solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God earlier this year there was just as much cause for rejoicing as there was for trepidation. One part, no matter how integral, of a larger whole has historically rarely lived up to the wattage of the larger entity, and it was feared this would be no exception. As such, it’s always best to take these things with a grain of salt, to consider them more a public experiment rather than some standalone masterpiece, and in that context, the album, and the performance of it, were both wildly successful.
Al Spx of Cold Specks being FUCKING AMAZING, like she do“Doom Soul” purveyors Cold Specks kicked the evening off with an opening set that was part soul comminuting beauty, part morphine-esque jazz, and a little bit of hangover for good measure. The last time lead singer Al Spx and crew came through town, the experience was almost perfectly revelatory, so to see a slightly looser, but no less intense Spx on stage explaining that her enormous “security cape” was usually accompanied by “confidence wine too, but I’m really hungover” -- it was Jim James’ birthday week last week -- served to further humanize a set full of slow burning songs off her debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. From the very first note of the set, Cold Specks caused audience members to dig deep within themselves to consider who they were, and what it all really means.
And then the wormhole opened.
Cold Specks is the stage persona for Al Spx, a 23-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist, currently touring to promote her stunning debut album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. Traveling with a band of musicians that expands and contracts in numbers depending on her budget and the size of the venue, Spx opened Saturday’s show at Jammin’ Java by walking center stage in an oversized black shift and huge cardigan with rolled-up sleeves, where she unleashed a voice that sounds like it can’t possibly come from her very tiny, very young frame. Spx let the audience know immediately what we were in for - jaw dropping vocals morphing into a fuller sound as she was joined on stage first by a guitarist and a baritone sax, then by a drummer and keyboardist, and finally by a bass guitarist.
For songs like “The Mark,” the album’s opening track, the sax rumbled like a foghorn and acted as a perfect complement for Spx’s own throaty baritone. “Heavy Hands,” with its bleating chorus and the deep sax surging in the background, felt like waves pounding over the audience - the song has the best the qualities of a haunting funeral dirge, but Cold Specks somehow managed to pull it off without bringing the evening down with a thud. At the opening piano bars for “Winter Solstice,” Spx put down her guitar and just stood in front of the mike, staring at the ceiling as she belted out the most powerful song on the album. It was in moments like these that the evening took on an almost dreamlike state, with the trance broken by Spx’ dazzling smile at the end of each song.
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.