When the year-end think pieces of 2012 hit the internet, chances are we will be flooded with more Lana Del Ray stories than we can withstand. Hundreds of jokes, regrets and “told you so” removals from the situation, unwilling to admit mistakes.
The surprising draw of “Video Games” will be forgotten, the scars too fresh. Too many pundits citing some fictional, altruistic search for authenticity feel burned by the fact Lizzy Grant tried music before, and… it wasn’t very good.
When we realized Grant’s image wasn’t part of her genetic makeup, somehow it was her fault we raised her up on our shoulders with only the guidance of solid PR work, a couple of spliced youtube videos and a theme song for our apathetic generation. It wasn’t Lizzy’s past that let us down, it was the internet and that’s a harder pill for most of us to swallow. Now, people are less willing to jump in and fall in love with a song fully and completely.
Unfortunately, that skepticism leaves an artist like Al Spx in a sort of purgatory. Al - known now as Cold Specks - is a fresh sound, but for those that listened, not a fresh face. These songs existed as sketches created from flexible pencil strokes of experimentation and uncertainty and that’s exactly what makes her gospel tinged debut so powerful.
Spx penned most of this album as Basket of Figs. Her work was raw and her voice was arresting. The songs were finished, in the sense that the recording was complete, but not fully developed. Spx’s songs benefited from lack of structure and complete isolation. She was a rough musician, and no one that knew any better told her what she was doing wrong. Her work was given complete freedom to roam.
Al was afforded a luxury few artists receive in today’s culture: Time. She developed her sketches into full ideas, collaborated with seasoned players to add depth and slowly became the type of artist that could explode onto an International stage. When you hear the power of I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, it’s crucial to remember that everything Spx was, she still is. She just has the support of strings, horns, backing vocals and measured, controlled builds to help her thoughts along.
Spx was reluctant to share, writing songs because she needed to get those emotions out of her heart and into the world. There was mystery behind her potential, but the rough edges and refusal to pull back the curtain made it hard for music writers to embrace her work. Even finding copies of her songs required help from MI6 (or a membership to the old Yerbird record service).
Now, Spx is writing these songs for everyone.
I Predict a Graceful Expulsion obviously possesses the spirit of the people and the past, but the closeted, mysterious artist from Etobicoke still remains. She sings of traditional, spiritual images and themes, but her own confusion and phrasing is just as important to the end result. She wants to return to the soil, and grow back better but more importantly, she just wants to believe in something. Al’s not calling out to God because she needs salvation or finds happiness in her faith. She’s calling out because simply hoping someone, anyone is listening.
Spx can sound triumphant, like when she booms over piano and choral backing on “Winter Solstice” or the spiritual “Send Your Youth”, but she can also sound intimate and alone. She can sing for the people in the fields, bellowing to the heavens for inspiration or for those trapped in the sprawl of cities, cursing the hell of anonymity and needing a shoulder or an ear. People might think this is record is rooted in the ’30s, but it’s just as much a soundtrack for today’s lost generation. “Hector” moves quickly, creating icy emotion that most NY based bands would love to recreate. She sings of blank maps, something unfortunately, most of us are forced to travel by. It’s not a dated concept of wild exploration, simply that planning is now an impossibility.
I realize it’s easy to hear this remarkable debut and assume it’s been manufactured, not grown. How could an artist this young nurture seedlings and let them grow into sturdy oaks without additives and hired hands?
That’s why I Predict a Graceful Expulsion is a blueprint for how we should let artists mature. It’s a fully realized vision that required time to reach maturity, but never sacrificed a truly unique origin in the process. We are lucky to have this LP in our possession, but luckier that time didn’t swallow Spx whole, leaving behind only her bones picked clean. Hopefully that will be the real story of 2012, not an artist being given something too quickly only to have it taken away too harshly.
Stream:: Cold Specks - Reeling the Liars In (Swans)