Cold Specks – Holland

Label Year is a feature in which I purchase all of the releases of a given record label for an entire calendar year and post on each one. I will also look at other significant releases from the label's past. 2011 will be devoted to Arts & Crafts out of Toronto. For more info, check out the introduction.


  • Artist: Cold Specks
  • Title: Holland
  • Format: 7-inch record
  • Release Date: 12/13/11
  • Catalog Number: ACX075

Wow. This is one incredible debut. I have no idea why, but for some reason I was expecting something electronic and dance-y with a modern, technological sound. I couldn't have been more wrong and I couldn't be happier I was. Cold Specks is the name of a group of musicians led by 23 year-old Canadian (now Londoner) Al Spx that has a beautiful traditional folk/Americana sound. Al lists Tom Waits and the Lomax field recordings among her influences, and I do believe she has honored them while also demonstrating her own singular voice and vision. If "Holland" is any indication, Cold Specks is going to be an important and exciting group for many years to come.

The intro of cello and cascading electric guitar is certainly lovely, but the moment that irrevocably snared me was when the fingerpicking on acoustic guitar began and Al's voice came in. My god. It was over right then. I knew I was hearing something amazing and I suspect most of you will know it too. "Holland" is not all that complex of a song but its simplicity has an elegance and magnetism that froze me for the duration and gave me chills. The tempo is confident and the 3/4 time (or is it 6/8? I was never too good with this) drives it along. About halfway through the band comes in with a little more force, namely the drums, before giving way again to Al's voice and guitar, and then just the voice.

And make no mistake, as much as I think Al seems to be attuned to having a band and more interested in mystique and contemplation than courting the spotlight, this is her show. Her voice has a worn in quality beyond its years, but a youthful strength that is utterly captivating. She sings straight to the bone, straight to the roots, straight to the soul. The melody feels timeless, and the delivery authentic and soulful. The main chorus lyric of "We are many, we are many, we are dust. And to dust, we will all return," is devastating in the best possible way. Though she's just getting started, I feel like we are in the hands of a master.

The B-side to the record is traditional folk song, "Old Stepstone." The version here is a capella and it is just as compelling as "Holland." I really love old songs sung with no accompaniment, there is a near indescribable magic to it. I feel that these melodies are encoded and embedded in our very cores. We don't just hear Al's gorgeous and poignant performance, but also the echoes of all the others before her, whether someone famous like Woody Guthrie or the countless anonymous others that sang this in their daily lives. It's like the aural equivalent of how I felt walking the ancient streets of Rome and pondering the millions of others that had done the same over thousands of years. This type of music feels more pure, more communal and more elemental to the human spirit. I dig it.

It was recently announced that Cold Specks' debut album, I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, will be released on May 22, 2012. I cannot wait. I am really excited to hear what the future holds for this talented young musician. You can buy the 7-inch record here and check out the video for the song below, plus links to all the previous Label Year posts.

I'm going to do an overall recap / summary / conclusion post for Label Year, and there may be some other surprises, but like I said earlier, this was the last piece of music from Arts & Crafts to come out in 2011. It does not have much of a connection to anything else we heard musically (maybe the closest would be the similarly vintage overtones of Timber Timbre, but that has a different vibe for sure), though the geographic connection is there. I completely understand why the label would want Cold Specks on it, especially one committed to releasing great music. Because this is great.

Previously on Label Year: