Music Reviews
I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

Cold Specks I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

(Mute/Arts & Crafts) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Regardless of the unfortunate album title Cold Specks chose for a first release, which reads quite foul if taken grossly out of context, it draws a parallel with main songwriter Al Spx’s sudden rise of attention. Like that fateful day when producer Jim Anderson heard her knockout voice in a demo for the first time, the Canadian singer/guitarist took it upon herself to drop out of school, fly to the U.K. and record her debut, in spite of of her family’s approval.  It’s the kind of voice that straight away catches the attention of any casual bystander – a throaty, vinegary inflection that conveys a kind of bittersweet emotiveness, Spx holds a fragility that appropriately resonates in a folk-ballad style.

A lot of liberties could’ve been taken to turn Spx into the next colossal Grammy winning smash. And there’s still time for that. For the time being, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion maintains a grounded, brooding focus that is designed more as a calling card to exhibit the next proper artist to warm the top of dusty stereo players of plenty middle-aged households. Linked with the support of a big label like Mute, Spx is the type of artist that's perfectly adequate for the World Café audience, one that finds itself being a bit more limiting ever since NPR made a major overhaul from being strictly adult contemporary-minded to sound more, dare I say, young.

So Spx cobbles her lamenting dirges with an overall seriousness that’s usually found in the work of eighties songwriters like Tracy Chapman and Natalie Merchant. Except that, even though the times haven’t changed much since then, she isn’t one to pry about political matters, opting to write rather vague accounts that substitute mournful poetry with nature usually bearing human characteristics. There’s a swelling oppression seeping in her affecting voice, most of it emblazoned with a gospel tinge, which conducts every measured chord change.

Expulsion was written with the backup of seasoned studio veterans, yet it wholly respects Spx’s vision of sailing a straight course. It never intends to disrupt its delicate ambiance, which in a way averts us from knowing Spx in a more profound sense. There are occasional moments of translucence that shake up its smeared graphite trails, like in When the Cities Dim, in which a cold symphony elevates the otherwise simple piano key notes. And in Heavy Hands, Spx callously repeats the words: heavy hands/ fire away, until a slithering cello stroke gives it a menacing weight that’s just mesmerizing.

Expulsion isn’t as accessible as it may assume – for a major release, it doesn’t fall under the usual trappings that other albums of a similar breed face. Spx and her musician friends do take considerable aesthetic risks in forming such a staunchly nimble listen. It’s not without its caveats – since the overall tone doesn’t really vary throughout (which actually favors its intended mood), it leaves a wide expanse for Spx to really flaunt her torchier side, something she’s not entirely comfortable with yet. But what we have here is the molding of a true songwriter instead of a fleeting star.  Expect to see Spx gracing multiple auditoriums for years to come.