COLD SPECKS with SNOWBLINK at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West), Wednesday (August 8), doors 8 pm. $15. RT, SS, TM. See listing.
In the wake of Lana Del Rey's hyper-speed career explosion and flame-out, it's become natural to receive out-of-nowhere overnight hype with shields up. That's especially true if the hype comes from the British music press, which seems to crown a new "best band ever" every few weeks.
So it shouldn't come as a great surprise that the dramatic rise of Etobicoke's Cold Specks has attracted a few suspicious side glances from music critics still worshipping the false idol of "authenticity."
The songs on Cold Specks' debut album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (Arts & Crafts), had their live origins on the Toronto folk circuit, where band leader Al Spx performed solo under the name Basket of Figs. But they didn't start attracting buzz until she moved to London, England, hooked up with producer Jim Anderson, PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis and a crack team of British session musicians who reworked her fragile, heartfelt gospel-blues ballads into full-band compositions with strings and horns.
The response from UK publications was both immediate and hyperbolic.
"There was a lot of hype in the UK before we even had the record out, and I have noticed that some of those magazines and newspapers tend to be incredibly fickle," admits the soft-spoken Spx over the phone from the Calgary Folk Festival. "I just hope that the music we made justifies that."
Despite the blog hype, Expulsion benefits from repeated close listens, and, despite the long-laboured-over arrangements, its instrumentation mostly stays out of the way of Cold Specks' biggest assets: her soulful, robust voice and expressively nuanced lyrics, which brim with barely hidden pathos and hesitant, insecure devotion.
The album recently landed a coveted spot on the Polaris Prize short list, an honour that continues the 24-year-old's transformation from virtual unknown with "disgusting stage fright" to the leader of a viable touring band recognized for making one of the 10 best Canadian albums of the past year.
Not bad for an artist who didn't find success until she left the country. Still a Canadian at both heart and passport, Spx feels lucky to be on a list with Feist and Cadence Weapon, her personal picks to win the prize.
"I go back and forth between Toronto and London every other month," she says. "I'm going to have to decide where to settle down eventually, but right now it's hard to decide which one to call my home."