Album review: Cold Specks – Neuroplasticity
Singer / Songwriter
Al Spx burst into the wider consciousness through one of those heart-stoppingly arresting performances that Jools Holland’s BBC show still throws up from time to time. Performing a cappella, it was impossible to ignore the Canadian’s voice – powerful yet vulnerable, informed by folk, gospel and raw emotion and recalling greats, from Janis Joplin to Anna Calvi. On this second album, that voice remains a devastatingly effective weapon, but the context has moved on.
In the last couple of years, Spx (not her real name either, by the way), has worked with industry veterans including Moby, Swans and jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and that diverse set of collaborators appears to have rubbed off. Neuroplasticity (named for its allusion to “a creative rewiring”, appropriately enough) offers a much fuller, murkier sound than Spx’s debut while maintaining the emotional intensity, and Swans’ Michael Gira, and Akinmusire, make successful guest appearances.
The latter’s skronking brass is subtly splattered all over the record, perhaps most notably on its first single, Absisto. Spx is imperious, warning that “I don’t suffer fools gladly” over an eerie jazz groove before, a couple of minutes in, all sound cuts out unexpectedly. A pregnant pause, and it’s followed by a cacophonous middle eight. Although such moments of catharsis are rare, this only amplifies the impact.
Exit Plan is similarly gloomy, with a memorably bleak chorus duet in which Gira’s gruff vocals play bass to Spx’s alto. Again, the tone is ominous, the lyrics alluding to someone being “hung, drawn and quartered”. Direct meaning tends to be elusive on this record, and Spx has been reluctant to be drawn, but words, phrases, titles like A Quiet Chill, Let Loose the Dogs and A Season of Doubt, and a pervasive mood of subtly gothic unease, all combine with that prodigious voice to create a seductive sound world that begs repeated listening.
“I remain unshakeable,” Spx sings on A Quiet Chill. It’s a state- ment of defiance, and a statement of intent for an excellent record. coldspecks.com