We begin in the woods: an antagonistic and strange relationship unfolds. She is being hunted. She is a bad seed. She says, “take my body home,” and it sounds both pleading and assured. She has been marked, and now she searches for a home.
This is the journey of Cold Specks’ debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. The title of the album, which is sung like a mantra in “Elephant Head” (one of the album’s highlights), is expressive of the paradox that haunts these songs: how does one get rejected, forcefully at that, and land gracefully?
The album attempts to find comfort in two opposing forces: death and home, or at least what they figuratively represent, but neither is ultimately the answer. These songs invoke both burial and blessing; coffin and bed. All are assimilated, unified—these wounds are rubbed with salt and sugar.
All of these questions are irrevocably entwined with religious doubt. In “Blank Maps,” singer Al Spx defiantly asserts that she is a “goddamn believer,” but the key assertion here is that “we were good children.” Spx wants to believe that this was for a purpose, and not simply as a means of appeasing a higher power. The confusion of the record is not whether or not to believe, but what to believe in.
The familial preoccupies much of the content of these songs; there are direct addresses to the figures of a mother, father, and brother, and “Winter Solstice” is built upon a repetition of the phrase “sons and daughters.” This in consideration with the frequent references to a loss of and search for a home imply a disconnection from one’s roots; the album is not explicit as to why, but there is some amount of bloodletting being done here.
As for the music: firstly, there is Spx’s otherworldly voice, which is somehow both timeless and markedly new. The rest of the band knows to builds around this voice, often keeping their distance so as not to intrude on it, which make the moments when they erupt all the more captivating, as in the chorus of “Heavy Hands” and the latter half of “Steady,” as well as the much-discussed and stunning single “Holland.” The touchstones here are crisp guitar and piano lines, steady kick-drum beats, and ethereal choral singing, used to varying degrees with horn and string sections.
It should be stated that the obsession that this record has with death is not necessarily morbid; in many ways, it recognizes it as part of a larger cycle—one which is reflected in the structure of the album itself: we come full circle with her. It is more apparent in “Lay Me Down” that these songs are not so much about death as they are about change. The record works more as a kind of eulogy: Spx is leaving something behind, and these songs are the catharses of watching it burn away, shedding a skin, and transforming into something new.