Dazzling with her performance of 'Lay Me Down' live on Later... With Jools Holland last November, then newcomer Cold Specks instantly marked herself out as 'One To Watch' for 2012. That particular song was written by Cold Specks - the adopted stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Al Spx - at the tender age of 15; it now serves as the closing track on debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. As a teenager, early ambitions of being a rock star soon faded into obscurity as Spx began to focus her attention on the more classical style of guitar, crafting a series of songs which she never really intended to go beyond her close circle of friends. When one of her demo CDs fell into the hands of producer Jim Anderson thanks to a chance trans-Atlantic encounter, Spx was invited to the UK to expand on the raw musical foundations she had already laid down. Much to her family's dismay, she abandoned academia and relocated to London on the quest for a career in music... and now here we have Cold Specks, signed to the prestigious Mute Records, only 24 years old but in possession of a voice which holds the wisdom of ages, releasing her debut album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion.
Cold Specks self-describes her music as "doom soul" - two conflicting single words, which when combined form an apt description. For this is powerful music. Rooted in the deep south of America with strong gospel influences, Spx has the ability to stir the soul with a raw yet velvety arresting vocal magnetism, delivering strife-laden lyrics that capture the heart and thwart attempts at release. Her voice is undeniably the main draw here - and this is by no means detraction to the handiwork of the accomplished session musicians who compliment it with a magnificent array of percussion, guitars, brass and strings to create the dark atmosphere which accommodates the might of her vocal talents.
The manner in which the songs of I Predict A Graceful Expulsion are crafted allows time for them to develop - nothing is rushed here. The gradual build of 'Heavy Hands' signals this early on in a subdued manner, before the duo of 'Winter Solstice' and 'When The City Lights Go Dim' emphatically command appreciation of the ensemble package. 'Send Your Youth' and 'Elephant Head' prove that intermittent lone piano melodies and guitar riffs are too more than capable to carry the weight of Spx's voice, and the slow-burning anthemic 'Steady' sees her explore her range to great effect. Lead single 'Holland' remains just as captivating as it was upon first listen late last year - that parting acapella line of "and to dust we will all return" so beautifully bleak.
There are countless adjectives that one could spout out when assessing the sonic merits of I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, so let's just round it up with this one: STUNNING. Without a doubt one of the most impressive album releases of 2012 thus far.