Cold Specks Sings About Love and Diaspora in the Apocalypse

Cold Specks plays Lost Lake Lounge tonight, November 11.
Cold Specks plays Lost Lake Lounge tonight, November 11. Courtesy of the artist
Cold Specks' Ladan Hussein has no idea whether anybody in Denver remembers who she is. She played the city once, back in 2013, opening for rocker Jim James at the Ogden Theatre, and hasn't been back – until tonight, November 11, when she headlines at Lost Lake Lounge.

A lot has changed since her Ogden show, when the soulful singer was going by a stage name, Al Spx. That was just two years after she dropped out of college, where she was studying English literature and political science. Over the years her sound has evolved from coffee-shop folk to brooding electro soul, but one thing has remained consistent: All along she has been singing what "moody broken songs," in a voice that she describes as "equally raspy and velvety, warm and cold in equal measures."

As a songwriter, Hussein is restless, moving from one genre to the next, taking influence from musicians such as PJ Harvey — whose drummer, Rob Ellis, has played for Cold Specks — and Nick Cave. She has collaborated with Moby and Massive Attack. "Sometimes I like acoustic guitars that are stripped down," she says. "Sometimes I want something that's bombastic and loud.... I feel like I get bored pretty easily. Shit changes."

Her latest album, Fool's Paradise, spans both sonic spaces. But overall, she has moved away from a sound driven by guitars toward synthesizers.
As for the album, she says, "It deals with love, loss, diaspora, dreaming and apathy in the apocalypse." For her, For her, the apocalypse means now: "It's the beginning of the end, isn't it?"

Hussein, whose family members are Muslim refugees, has long wrangled with living as a black Muslim woman, particularly in an era of rising anti-refugee, anti-Muslim and white supremacist organizing.

"My three sisters and my parents are Somali refugees. When the Muslim ban happened, they suddenly couldn't fly to the States. It was really uncertain what the details were, initially," she recalls. "Existing as a black Muslim woman, I have to work three times as hard as an average Joe or any offensively mediocre Joe.

"It's certainly difficult maneuvering in these times with all of those different identities," she adds.

But as a person whose identities are fixed in the crosshairs of racists, she has a survival strategy. "Within the last couple months, I've learned to stop analyzing it and simply exist," she explains. "I feel like it was just a weight on my shoulders for quite some time, and now I'm not analyzing it anymore. I'm just trying to exist.... You can only explore the weight of identities for a certain amount of time before it becomes overwhelming and annoying.... Disconnecting and self-care are important. There's no need to crumble in vain."

When Cold Specks plays Lost Lake tonight as a three-piece band, Hussein plans to perform some songs from across her career but will mostly emphasize material from Fool's Paradise. The show opens with incense, a few solo numbers; then her two bandmates, whom she views as family, will join her and begin to play.

"There's a lot of dreaming that takes place on stage," she says. "I hope to take people on a journey."

What kind of journey? "You have to come and find out," Hussein concludes.

Cold Specks, with La Timpa and Sur Ellz, 9 p.m., November 11, Lost Lake Lounge, 3202 East Colfax Avenue, $13 to $15.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris