It seems a bit obvious to point out the major changes on Cold Specks' third album. You can't step in the same river twice, after all, and artistic progression is to be encouraged. But beyond its clear stylistic changes, Fool's Paradise feels more like a notable transition point, one that sees artist Ladan Hussein stepping away from obscure pseudonyms to adopt a more experiential approach.
The album maintains a placid calm on many tracks. Largely absent are the organs, guitars, and other rock-oriented instruments that made the last Cold Specks release so tempestuous. Instead, spare, delicate synthesizers and skittering beats underpin Fool's Paradise. Unfortunately, this change in direction doesn't always suit Cold Specks' established talents.
While Hussein's voice is as strong as ever, many of the tracks on Fool's Paradise lack memorable hooks. This creates a sense of stasis on tracks like "New Moon," where verses simply drift into one another with little build or release. Many songs feel restrained and muted, even when the production lends a little extra heft. "Void" creates interesting textures with its distorted, mechanical beat and ethereal synths, while the title track features strong arrangements. Yet too often, Hussein seems to let tracks simmer when they could boil.
Tellingly, the album's best track largely avoids these pitfalls. "Exile" closes Fool's Paradise by reconciling the foreboding organs of Hussein's previous work with her newfound synth-pop flourishes. Striking a balance between sinister and comforting, it's a compelling sign that Cold Specks remains an artist to watch. (Arts & Crafts)