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Cold Specks: “Good Art Provokes Something in People. It Creates Conversation.”

November 7, 2014
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ColdSpecks_CreditSteveGullick High ResText by Michele Zipkin. Image courtesy of Steve Gulllick.

Al Spx, writing songs under the moniker Cold Specks, has taken a stylistic and emotional one-eighty through her latest album, Neuroplasticity. The twenty-six year-old Canadian songwriter has branched out compared to her instrumentally scant first record, as a young songwriter ought to do from album to album.

“I wanted to have a kind of live show that I could play day in and day out, that takes the audience members on a journey,” says Spx.

And she will take listeners on the journey of her raucous, dissonant, haunting and melodic musical world at Johnny Brenda’s tomorrow night as part of her tour to celebrate the album. She shares a bill with Brooklyn-based songwriter Eddi Front.

The songs on Neuroplasticity are much more filled out than those on I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. They feature full percussion, bass, guitar, trumpet by Ambrose Akinmusire, and supporting vocals by Michael Gira (Swans.) Songs that may have consisted of only guitar and vocals, stripped down and folky, take on a multidimensional, dynamic character when played with a full band, thus acquiring more of a concrete style.

Like the instrumentation and tonal moods that pervade Spx’s second release, a fairly wide array of topics and emotions make themselves known throughout this collection of songs. She can sing the most endearing line in the same song as she sings a destructive one.

“The first line of the record is ‘Dance darling, don’t shuffle,’ and the final line of the record is ‘I’ve got an unrelenting desire to fall apart,’,” says Spx. “So it’s an emotionally confused record.”

Love gets just as much play as death in this album, for example, and each song conjures a different storyline and musical atmosphere.

The fairly drastic change in instrumentation and diversity in emotional subject matter are due to Spx’s desire to do something completely different from her initial collection of songs. Though she loved her first record, she grew tired of the monotony of repeatedly playing that set of songs on tour. With Neuroplasticity, she “…wanted to take the audience on a little 90 minute journey,” she says.

Spx encountered a veritable hodgepodge of music growing up, which undoubtedly plays a role in how she writes her own songs. For instance, her father is a musician, and sang to her as a child.

“I think East African rhythms and melodies seeped into my songwriting,” Spx says. That’s reflected in the song ‘Absisto.’ The middle section is kind of a nightmarish African rhythm. I also grew up on soul singers.”

Although Spx does not hesitate to take stylistic, instrumental and melodic liberties in her songwriting, many listeners expect a particular style from her, partially based on the soulful tone of her low-register voice.

“I think that there’s a certain kind of ownership that people feel that they have to it,” Spx says. “‘Cause I think people expected soul songs, and didn’t get that with this record.”

And not only does the timbre of her voice lend to certain expectations of genre, but the fact that she’s a woman in a male-dominated industry proves to be something of a challenge at times. Spx has encountered some barriers as a female songwriter.

“It’s harder for a woman who wants to create and change things,” she says. “I found it difficult putting out this record, because I’ve change quite a lot. There were some people who were focusing on melody and the lack of chart-topping songs. I don’t think I would have gotten any of that if I were a white man.”

Despite assumptions or expectations, Spx’s sophomore record has left positive imprints on the ears of those more open-minded listeners.

“I think some people have really enjoyed the new songs, and some are taken aback by them,” she says. “I think good art provokes something in people. It creates conversation. And that’s all I ever want to do, really.”

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