Cold Specks

Neuroplasticity

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Mercurial Canada-born, England-based singer/songwriter Al Spx laid the groundwork for her self-described "doom soul" movement on 2012's downright miasmatic I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, a relentlessly slow-burn collection of bluesy and winded soul-folk that suggested an unholy union of Odetta and Tindersticks. On Neuroplasticity, her ear-popping sophomore long-player, she takes the "doom soul" architecture to an exciting new level, pumping it full of nervy post-rock and no wave, resulting in something that sounds akin to Santigold, St. Vincent, TV on the Radio, Laura Mvula, and Macy Gray at their most despondent. To be fair, there is something impenetrable about the record, but while it may feel decidedly bereft of hooks upon first listen, multiple spins reveal layers of incredibly complex arrangements and offbeat instrumentation (marxophone, trumpet, vibes, woodwinds, harmonium, etc.) that reward even as they flail about in fluctuating states of torment. This newfound predilection for juiced-up melancholy gives the album an immediacy that its predecessor, as good as it was, lacked, especially on standout cuts like the subversively breezy "Bodies at Bay," the apocalyptic, goth-folk epic "Formal Invitation," and the blistering opener "Broken Memory," a funereal jackhammer of a dirge with a devilish horn section to match. Fittingly, Swans' Michael Gira lends his distinctive baritone to the appropriately brooding "Exit Plan" and the truly bleak and beautiful closer "A Season of Doubt," the latter of which, an aching, post-coital/pre-dawn torch song, sums the record up best with its final line: "I've got an unrelenting desire to fall apart."

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