By Dylan Toigo
Lauded London-based “doom” crooner Cold Specks plays Victoria’s Alix Goolden Hall on May 12, opening for Canadian indie veterans The Great Lake Swimmers.
Cold Specks is the musical brainchild of 24 year-old Al Spx from Etobicoke, Ont. Spx moved her act to London in 2010 where she hooked up with manager/producer Jim Anderson and drummer/producer/“guru” Rob Ellis.
With the help of Anderson and Ellis, as well as an ensemble of seasoned musicians, Spx set to work fine-tuning the tracks of tender turmoil and achy acceptance that fill her debut LP I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. The album hits Canadian record stores May 22.
As the notoriously nervous Spx prepares to hit the road for her first major tour, she recalls with bashful amusement her very first show at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto when she was 17.
“It was interesting,” Spx says with an unsure laugh. “It was back when my project was called the Hotel Ghost, which never really turned into anything. It was me on a keyboard that I didn’t know how to play and I did a half hour set with songs that all sounded exactly the same.”
Several years and a lot of learning later, Cold Specks began to gain notoriety in the U.K. following a powerful performance on late night talk show Later With Jools Holland.
Pair that with a slew of favorable reviews from British media heavyweights like The Guardian and The Times for her debut single “Holland,” and Cold Specks was riding a steady wave of acclaim quickly across the Atlantic to her home and native land. In late 2011, Spx signed with Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Feist, Timber Timbre), one of Canada’s most revered record labels.
I Predict A Graceful Expulsion draws heavily on influences like the gospel, blues and folk music most commonly associated with the Southern United States. Spx herself credits the Lomax field recordings and gospel/soul singing greats like Mahalia Jackson, James Carr and the early work of Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers as major inspirations for her vocal-heavy music stylings.
“I think it is because the singers and songwriters that were included in the Lomax collections were all people who never intended on making a career out of music, they were just singing for the love of it and you can hear that when you listen back,” Spx says. “I’m also really into the gospel of Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, not so much Sam Cooke’s pop music, but his old gospel stuff is some of the most stunning work I’ve ever heard. There’s a point in “Peace in the Valley” where his voice cracks, and he never cared to re-record the song, he kept the crack in that track and I think it is just so wonderful.”
Spx’s own gritty and soaring voice, tinged with hints of the great Nina Simone, provides the focal point of this record. Among the sparse and evocative thrumming of the musical arrangements and the dark lyrical content, which centers around loss and longing, Spx’s voice shimmers like flakes of gold in the silt and stones of a shallow riverbed, catching and casting flecks of light into an inky abyss.
May 12 at Alix Goolden Hall marks a perfect chance to catch Cold Specks on its almost certain rise to becoming a household name.
For the young Canadian songstress, this tour marks her first time visiting “out West,” an experience she looks forward to with pleasant anticipation.
“I’m really excited, I hear Vancouver is pretty,” Spx says. “And apparently Victoria is supposed to be even prettier.” M
The Great Lake Swimmers with Cold Specks
Saturday, May 12, 7:30 pm
Alix Goolden Hall
Tickets $24 at Ditch Records, Lyle’s Place and at ticketweb.com