Neuroplasticity is a bit more fleshed-out than its predecessor, but the album retains ample amounts of the slow to mid-tempo spookiness that Al Spx calls “doom soul.”
By Blake Maddux
Al Spx is a Toronto-born singer-songwriter who records and performs as Cold Specks. She plucked this phrase from an infamously knotty masterpiece of 20th century world literature. I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, her debut album, appeared in 2012, when she was based in London. The album was nominated for the annual Polaris Music Prize, which was created in 2006 and recognizes the “best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label.”
In 2013, Spx appeared on Moby’s album Innocents, was the winner in the Female Artist of the Year category of the SiriusXM Indies Awards, and relocated from London to Montreal.
Mute Records released the 26-year-old’s sophomore effort Neuroplasticity in August. This album is a bit more fleshed-out than its predecessor, but retains ample amounts of the slow to mid-tempo spookiness that she calls “doom soul.” (Sample lyric: “I smother with you with silence until you choke on dead air.”)
Having played some dates alone as an opening act in support of her debut, Spx is now on the road with a full band and headlining venues throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Spx responded via email to questions from The Arts Fuse ahead of her performance at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge, MA, to which even the mildly curious should flock on November 5 before her nom de plume adorns the marquees of much larger venues.
Arts Fuse: I learned the word that serves as the title of your new album from a commercial for a product called Lumosity. Is that where you first heard it, too?
Al Spx: I don’t know what you’re talking about! I felt as though the new record was incredibly different. I wanted a name that would reflect the creative re-wiring process and overall growth of the project. I thought Neuroplasticity was appropriate.
AF: What is it like being part of the Montreal music scene?
Spx: The music scene here is incredibly vibrant. There are a lot of exciting things going on. The guys in the band Wintersleep are good friends. Loel [Campbell] and Tim [D’Eon] actually play with me. This town is infested with great bands: Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Timber Timbre, Suuns, Arcade Fire…just to name a few.
AF: I saw you open for Great Lake Swimmers a few years ago. What is it like to now have the headlining spot?
Spx: Oh! I must have been playing solo back then. We’re loud now. We’re a five-piece. Our live show is energetic and has a much fuller sound. It’s an absolute pleasure to be bringing the new stuff out as a headlining act.
AF: At that show, you had some not nice words for the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. What was all the fuss about?
Spx: I think we couldn’t release “Blank Maps” as a single in the U.S. because of the word “Goddamn.” I remember playing a few radio shows and having to change the lyric to “I am, I am a Goshdarn believer,” which I thought was incredibly amusing.
AF: Why did you describe yourself as “a ridiculous person” after referencing the “ridiculously long” album title I Predict a Graceful Expulsion?
Spx: Did I say that? I have a tendency to talk a lot of shit.
AF: Did you always plan to use a stage name as a performer?
Spx: Yeah. I’d like to hold on to myself as much as possible. Being a musician is only one aspect of me. I’d rather not have it define me.
AF: Did you put I Predict a Graceful Expulsion more or less completely behind you when you set out to make Neuroplasticity, or did the experience of the first album inform the making of the second one?
Spx: I became quite bored with the sparseness of the first record. It became to difficult to play live because I felt the set was a little monotonous. Also, the subject matter was very personal and reflected a time long gone. I no longer wanted to feel like a bad actress and so I wrote songs I could perform day in and day out.
AF: Fill in the blank: I wish that I were half the singer-songwriter that [______] is.
Spx: Kate Bush
AF: Do you have a preferred format when it comes to listening to music (MP3, CD, vinyl)?
AF: Which adjectives do you most appreciate people using to describe your music?
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to DigBoston and The Somerville Times. He recently received a master’s degree from Harvard Extension School, which awarded him the Dean’s Thesis Prize in Journalism. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife in Salem, Massachusetts.