I’d love to know why May is such a mad one for new records. Maybe it’s a budgetary year thingy or something, in the same way that all the roads round here suddenly need resurfacing, digging and repainting (not necessarily in that order) around this time of year. Maybe May is traditionally a big month for albums thanks to the sun coming out a bit and making us all feel happy. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that so much good stuff is all out in the same month, much of it on the same day. Whatever, I suspect that boffins aren’t exactly falling over each other to find out and I’m happy anyway.
Thanks to a weekend of no sleep followed by a day at work that went on far longer than I hoped it would, I’m not in much of a mood to be rooting through neither the noisier nor the calmer ends of the stuff that I’ve gotten hold of this week, so instead I’ll plump for something that sort of manages to do both; by way of this record that gently yet firmly stirs the soul.
Cold Specks is Al Spx, Canadian-turned-Londoner who released the intriguing single Holland late last year and who describes her work as “Doom Soul”. After sitting slack-jawed and attentive through my first listen of this curiously titled debut, I’m not going to argue with that description at all. First song The Mark sets a tone of an almost resigned spirit, but Al’s voice – and what a voice – provides a light and a lift through some rather dark places, creating music that can’t help but rise to a crescendo every time, pushing the various arrangements to natural peaks while having that gently meandering quality to them in much the same way as Bill Callahan does so effortlessly. Winter Solstice is the perfect example of this, its ascendant story with literally chest-beating chorus making for an incredibly moving listen.
Where Cold Specks veers gently away from the darker places is when I Predict A Graceful Expulsion really shines – When The City Lights Dim and the final hurrah of Reeling The Liars In are made of the sort of Heavy Soul that could (and probably should) propel her into the stratosphere, and the confident Elephant Head (containing a chorus consisting of that odd title) has that Tracy Chapman-esque defiant monologue pushing itself to the front of your attention. And I suspect that Greg Dulli is already poring over Blank Maps, as it’s one of those songs that simply screams for him to cover.
Yes, it’s certainly Doomy. But Cold Specks’ Soul carries whatever fates she depicts with a disarming grace, boldness and heart (Steady‘s rise and refrain is genuine hold-your-breath stuff) that the determination to just carry on sometimes doesn’t feel quite so grim, purely because the fight sounds so damn good when she sings it. This is music that feels equally at home last thing at night or first thing in the morning.