Though 24-year-old Al Spx grew up in Toronto, her muse sent her across the pond to further hone her craft. The United Kingdom and its rich musical legacy is an appropriate backdrop for the budding singer-songwriter: Much like the supremely talented Laura Marling, Spx's Cold Specks project is a subtle reconciliation of modern alt-rock tropes and vintage folk-music forms.
Spx has tagged her moody, ruminative sound as "doom soul," a quote more than a few critics have repeated ad nauseam over the past several months. Yet such a tag doesn't fit right, in all honesty. On her debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, released in May on the legendary Mute imprint, Spx reveals her true lineage to be PJ Harvey's goth-flavored, torch-song brood by way of African American vernacular artists Odetta, Richie Havens and the incomparable Elizabeth Cotten (who predates those other two). In other words, she's way more folk and blues than she is soul and gospel. This extends to her lyrical temperament, too. "Damned" is too strong a word, but there can be little doubt that redemption feels like a far-off land on such tunes as "When the City Lights Dim" and "Heavy Hands."
What Spx also shares with Marling is a haunted voice that rises well above the perpetually shifting vagaries of history. Brittle and raspy, but malleable and opaque as well, it would feel right at home in just about any epoch: a small, rickety stage in the Southern Piedmont of the late 1800s; a smoky coffeehouse in early-'70s London; or a hipper-than-thou indie-rock club in 21st-century Brooklyn.