My parents had a Nina Simone LP that called the singer-pianist “The High Priestess of Soul.” I remember playing the record, which had a song called “Mississippi Goddamn,” which was about the lynchings and civil unrest there. The LP also had one of her signature songs, the hypnotic “4 Women,” which describes the very different lives of 4 generations of African American women. What got me hooked was the rich, mournful tone of Simone’s voice, and her exquisite piano playing. While some of her music does reference ‘Soul’ music, it really doesn’t belong to that tradition. Showtunes, classical, Dylan and Cohen, protest and folk were all in her repertoire. She was, indeed, a high priestess.
Artist/singer/guitarist Cold Specks reminds me of Simone, even though the artists sound radically different. Her voice isn’t ‘pretty;’ it’s a harsh, raspy thing that has gravitas. And despite calling the music she makes ‘Doom Soul,’ her work encompasses coffee-house folk, blues, jazz, and in her excellent latest LP Neuroplasticity, a kind of gothic dark rock sound.
‘Abisto,’ the lead single and video, sets the tone for the album. The production and effects are murky and muddy, with a blues feel. Cold Specks plays the high priestess of some chthonic cult, sitting on a throne in a swamp flanked by two Amazons as she dishes out harsh justice to a series of ostensibly bad men. “I don’t suffer fools gladly,” she croons. The Amazons are covered in glitter and their eyes are super dilated, as if they are on some kind of opiate. It’s a video full of disturbing imagery, skeletons, executions and flames.
The rest of the album is full of thunderous noise from mutated brass, coldwave synthesizers, loud, distorted guitar orchestras and rhythms that dramatically shift time signatures. Over this, Cold Specks sings in her witch-voice, lyrics full of rage and revenge. This new sound suits her voice
The music also reminds me of the work of novelist Gayl Jones. Jones’ small oeuvre focused on the lives of black women and their nihilistic rage at the injustices they suffer. Jones writes a kind of horror fiction, peopled with damaged characters and a pervading sense of doom.
Neuroplasticity is the spiritual soundtrack of Jones’ work.