“Sons of Anarchy” fans will never forget Season 5’s shocking episode “Laying Pipe” set to the memorizing vocals of Cold Specks.
“I had no idea about it until it came out, but I have never watched the show. My brother-in-law’s a huge fan. He heard it and told me about it,” says Ladan Hussein, a.k.a. Al Spx, a.k.a. Cold Specks, who also performed “Lay Me Down” on venerable late night British TV show “Later With Jools Holland” along with guests Pete Townsend, plus Florence and the Machines.
After transfixing the whole nation with her electrifying debut that Holland lauded as “the power of the single human voice” Spx simple calls the fateful appearance “good luck.”
“I started writing songs when I was a teenager (in Etobicoke). I was in university (studying English) I made a collection of song demos that I gave to a friend of mine. He passed them on to his brother Jim Anderson, (Blur, Depeche Mode) who was a record producer in England.”
Spx (with a sister in K-W) is “self taught,” also learning from her father and a “lot of Somalian singing” in the household.
Cold Specks is taken from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” line “born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”
Spx, now based in Montreal, hearkens the spirituals of Mahalia Jackson, the vintage soul of James Carr, and the chutzpah of Grace Jones. She is vocally entrancing writing songs of strange comfort yet underlying menace. Produced by Anderson, dark-folk debut “I Predict a Graceful Expulsion” (Mute Records, England, Arts and Crafts, Canada) featuring “Blank Maps,” (UK hit single) “Holland” and “The Mark” became Spx-dubbed “doom-soul.” “I Predict” also made the 2012 Polaris Music Prize Short List, and garnered Cold Specks a 2013 Juno nod for Breakthrough Artist.
She also collaborated with Moby (“A Case Of Shame”) Swans singer Michael Gira (“Bring the Sun”) and Joni Mitchell trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (“Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child”).
These collaborations and the urge to exorcise media catch phrase “hauntingly beautiful singer” spawned Cold Specks’ sophomore album “Neuroplasticity” (how the human brain learns), partly written at a cottage in Somerset, England and finished off in Montreal (Hotel2Tango — Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre) and Toronto (Revolution Recordings — Sarah Slean, Danko Jones). Collaborations continued with Swans-singer Gira on album tracks “Exit Plan” and Akinmusire on mournful finale “A Season of Doubt.”
Produced by bass/synth player Anderson, “Neuroplasticity” is deliberately more atmospheric (think Massive Attack or Portishead), but vocally visceral. Spx’s voice has transcended into a bewitching southern goth-drenched doom-soul. The album includes “Old Knives” (decapitating a sleeping lover), uptempo menace mantra “Bodies at Bay” and eerie ritualistic video single “Absisto” (Latin for withdraw).
“I was in a cottage outside of Glastonbury in a very bizarre town (Wick, Somerset) which is full of spiritual hippies. I could not find a pair of pants, socks or underwear in town, but I could probably get crystal green cauldrons and a bunch of weird stuff. I wrote several strange songs. So I think that probably affected the tone of my writing,” says Spx with a coy laugh, adding that her dream collaboration is singing with Kate Bush.