Cold Specks, aka Al Spx, has returned, two years and a world map of tours after 2012’s I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. Hailed as a masterful and wholly original debut, the follow-up is radically expanded. The 26 year-old Canadian singer, under the sobriquet Al Spx, began work on Neuroplasticity while holed-up in a cottage in Wick, Somerset during the winter of 2012. “In retrospect, I probably didn’t choose the most ideal season to live there,” she deadpans. “The record was mapped out in the cottage. I was there for about three months,” she says, “’A Formal Invitation’, ‘Old Knives’ and ‘Absisto’ were essentially written there. They are the more unusual songs on the record. I may have been reflecting on my surroundings. Have you ever been to Glastonbury? It’s a pretty fucked up place.”
The time on either side was as new and exciting as it was cruel and exhausting. Presently she was back on the road again in the UK, Europe, the US and Canada. “I relentlessly toured for the first time. Travelling constantly was an odd adjustment at first. I’d always imagined road-trips to be exciting and generally fun. I found it all to be physically and mentally draining. Between tours I was mostly attempting to re-socialise myself.”
When Cold Specks wasn’t writing or touring, she was pinballing between asks from an enviable roll call of collaborators and award panels. Shortlisted for the Juno Award and Polaris Prize, Spx also worked on Moby’s album and was invited to play with Joni Mitchell at the singer’s 70th birthday last year, alongside the likes of Herbie Hancock. She contributed to Ambrose Akinmusire’s new record for Blue Note and the latest Swans album ‘To Be Kind’. These last two partnerships have left a significant impression on ‘Neuroplasticity’. The indomitable Swans founder Michael Gira appears midway through on ‘Exit Plan,’ and Akinmusire joins him on the holocaust of a closer ‘A Season of Doubt’ as well as permeating most of the record with trumpet lines of an anguished, cracking frailty.
Absisto, by the way, is the Latin verb for withdraw or depart, and neuroplasticity is the process by which it is thought human brains learn. The album dwells upon just this sense of the dark and unknown. It is bleaker than before perhaps but the wintry feel of Cold Specks material, self-described last time as ‘doom soul,’ has the quiet power of seeds cracking through ice. The thematic fixation with blood, animals and earth that spills in from the previous LP ensures that the notion of obliteration remains cradled by some intractable cosmic order, however torrid.